Immigrants make their voices heard in Florida’s capitol

by Thomas Kennedy | April 9, 2019 9:51 am

Credit: Thomas Kennedy

Last week, over three hundred immigrants and other community members mobilized to Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee to defend and protect our communities from Republican lawmakers who are once again attempting to pass anti-immigrant legislation that would lead to the detention and deportation of hardworking people across the state. This week, dozens of Latinas came back to tell their legislators to vote against these bad laws that would separate immigrant mothers from their children.

But some Republicans in Florida insist that their bills will not do that. Senator Joe Gruters, who also serves as chair of the Florida Republican Party, filed Senate Bill 168 to punish municipalities that welcome immigrants and force local Police and state employees to act as immigration agents.

Facing pressure from new Governor Ron Desantis, Republicans in the Florida Senate are fast tracking the bill despite fierce opposition from a wide coalition of advocates in the state. Despite packed rooms week after week with people attempting to speak out against the bill, Senate Republicans have instead chosen to shut down debate and move the proposal forward.

Senator Gruters and other supporters of this family separation bill are propagating a false narrative that it would only affect violent criminals who have outstanding detainer requests and that people stopped for simple traffic violations like a busted brake light would “not likely” face detention and deportation.

This is just simply not true.

The facts are that immigrants with no prior criminal history have been deported for simple things like driving without a license for years now. Close to one million Floridians can’t access a driver’s license due to their immigration status. In Florida, getting caught driving without a license three times is a felony. Under Gruter’s family separation bill, if an undocumented person with a clean criminal record gets pulled over by police, they would be held by local law enforcement on an ICE detainer, and they would then be transferred to an ICE detention facility and possibly deported.

Senator Gruters and other Republicans in the Florida Legislature have been repeatedly asked in the media about the broad impact of Senate Bill 168 and the added risk to immigrants who drive every day without a license. Their only answer so far has been that people should not break the law and that they should instead use public transit.

This answer is laughable.

Florida’s economy is powered by immigrants. The tourism, hospitality, construction, service and agriculture industries in the state are powered by immigrants. Adding insult to injury, public transit is virtually nonexistent in Florida due to inaction by lawmakers. To ask someone like a construction worker like my father to wait up to an hour or more for a bus to endure a ride that can last over an hour with all of his tools is absurd. It just shows how out of touch Republicans in Tallahassee are.

Credit: Thomas Kennedy

That’s why we mobilized to Tallahassee.

Our people flooded the halls of the Capitol and had what was perhaps the largest press conference so far in this legislative session. Not only did we denounce efforts to criminalize our communities but we uplifted positive legislation that would do so much to help immigrant families in Florida, including efforts to grant a driver’s license to all Floridians regardless of immigration status, give immigrant students access to state scholarships, increase regulatory practices protecting agricultural workers from the heat and minimizing the cooperation between law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement.

Credit: Thomas Kennedy

We heard stories of directly impacted people to lawmakers that otherwise never face the people who suffer the consequences of their actions. Lily and her husband had been in this country for over thirty years. Her husband was recently deported after attending his scheduled check-in with ICE in Miramar, leaving her behind with two kids including a five-year-old named Roxana who is a U.S. citizen.

Nataly, who is an activist with United We Dream, shared with us her experience growing up undocumented. She spoke about moving to Tallahassee in order to attend college without her parents’ help, since they were afraid to make the long trip across the state without a license. Her dad has already been stopped twice driving without a license on his way to work. One more time would be a felony and Nataly is afraid he will be deported.

The legislative session ends on May 3rd. We will continue to mobilize folks from across Florida to make sure that these Tallahassee lawmakers hear their stories and face the consequences of their actions.

If you are interested in joining a delegation to the Capitol sign up at

Thomas Kennedy is the Political Director for FLIC Votes and a communications fellow for Community Change. He tweets from @Tomaskenn

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