An advocacy group for immigration reform stopped in North Florida Tuesday as part of a nearly month-long campaign targeting communities.
The Farmworker Association of Florida Inc. has traveled statewide throughout August and September to visit 27 districts from Lake Worth to Maitland to Gainesville, to persuade the community and slow-to-reply lawmakers to support its cause.
“We’ve been asking for meetings with them — with our communities – for months, and they never responded to us,” said Tirso Moreno, the association general coordinator. “Now we’re going into their offices.”
Organization members and Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice went to meet with U.S. Congressman Ted Yoho in Gainesville, who was out of his office, and Republican U.S. Congressman Rich Nugent in Ocala.
Moreno said he went to Yoho’s office because he wanted to know the Republican’s position on immigration reform.
Yoho’s solution for immigration is to secure the border, according to his website. He wants to introduce a guest worker program, which would mandate immigrant workers to pay taxes.
Members of the association spoke about their experiences as undocumented workers living in the United States at a morning press conference at the Mennonite Meeting House on Northwest 18th Avenue.
Moreno is hopeful for eventual legal status given to undocumented workers and students after the U.S. Senate passed historic legislation in June.
He said immigrants are often victims of crimes but don’t report anything because they’re afraid of a police officer checking on their immigration status. They’re concerned about officers racially profiling those they stop.
Carlos Lopez, 21, of Dade City, has traveled with the organization for two weeks. He said the one thing he would want to tell lawmakers is that immigrants who have entered or remain in the country without authorization aren’t in the U.S. to commit crimes but to create a future.
“We all have rights,” he said. “We are humans, and we deserve our human rights.”
The organization also spoke with students at the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures.
Haidee Cano, a 21-year-old theater senior at the University of Florida, said she was excited to hear about the workers’ experiences. She has advocated for them through her involvement with CHISPAS, which gives support to immigration issues happening locally and nationally.
A child of illegal immigrants, Cano said she feels sorry for the young people who grew up in this country as Americans but still aren’t citizens.
“They’re not represented as an American yet they feel so American,” she said. “I feel for that.”
Clarification appended: A previous version of this story referred to immigrants who have entered or remain in the country without authorization as “illegal immigrants.” This usage was in contradiction with the Associated Press Stylebook and has been rewritten above.