Anti-immigrant bill passes House Committee in Florida

En Espanol

Today, the Florida House Judiciary Committee voted in favor (10-7) of anti-immigrant bill HB9, which aims to legalize racial profiling while punishing local municipalities for protecting its residents. Even though a similar bill approved in Texas earlier this year has received national backlash and constitutional concerns, Florida legislators moved forward to threaten public safety and undermine local democracy by bringing Trump’s anti-immigrant policies to our state.

The bill, which was intentionally assigned to only one committee, limiting the opportunities for public comment, and sparking outrage in the community, can be taken up for a final vote on the House floor as early as January 9th the first day of the 2018 Legislative session.

Diverse advocates, led by Immigrant families mobilized to Tallahassee and filled the chambers to give heart-felt testimonies against the immoral and unconstitutional bill. They now turn their eyes to the Senate where reason in years past has prevailed.

The following are statements in response:

“Today we see what the legislature is trying to do to our communities. This bills persecute immigrant families and immigrant communities. They also make local governments job harder when it comes to public safety,” said State Senator José Javier Rodriguez on a press conference after the vote. “This has to end. We need to refocus on actually doing things FOR our communities instead of persecuting them.”

“They want our labor, our tax contributions and our consumer dollars, but they don’t want to recognize us as people with families. Forcing local police and local governments to become immigration agents doesn’t help anyone. In fact, HB9 will force immigrants who are victims of crimes to remain silent out of fear, increasing the distrust between vulnerable communities and law enforcement,” said Tirso Moreno, General Coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida.”

“Our legislators don’t get tired of trying to criminalize immigrant workers and separate millions of families. But they know we won’t get tired either. We are Florida and we will never accept any attack to our diverse communities, we will always stand together to protect our families and, at the polls, we will remember who stood with us,” says Maria Rodriguez, Executive Director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Since 2011, the We Are Florida campaign led by the Florida Immigrant Coalition has mobilized and successfully defeated all anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills. Farmworkers, labor unions, students and workers from across the state have pledged to use their voice and power to once again put a stop to anti-immigrant bills that hurt us all.

 

FLORIDA HOUSE TO VOTE ON ANTI-IMMIGRANT BILL

Immigrant families and advocates mobilize to the state’s capitol to speak against anti-immigrant bill, House Bill 9, scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, November 7th, 2017. Vans will be departing from Hialeah in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando.

Despite the national backlash and constitutional concerns that Texas faced after proposing a similar bill, Florida legislators threaten public safety and undermine local democracy by attempting to bring Trump’s anti-immigrant policies to our state.

“It’s immoral that legislators elected to protect our children, year after year, continue to propose bills that criminalize immigrant workers who are their parents, and cold-heartedly separate families,” said Lourdes Villanueva from Redland Christian Migrant Association and Board Chair of the Florida Immigrant Coalition “HB 9 would have serious human cost but also an economic impact on local industry and municipalities as law enforcement, city or county officers, and even school and college employees are required  to report undocumented immigrants.”

For the 2018 legislative session, the bill was intentionally assigned to only one committee, limiting the opportunities for public comment on it and sparking outrage in the community, especially after several local governments have adopted policies to protect immigrant families from Trump’s deportation machine.  

“We are actively mobilizing and educating immigrants to become conscious and active citizens and voters. We must pay close attention to policies that undermine the power of local government and weaken our democracy.” said Broward County Commissioner Dale Holeness.

Since 2011, the We Are Florida campaign led by the Florida Immigrant Coalition has mobilized and successfully defeated all anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills. Farmworkers, labor unions, students and workers from across the state have pledged to use their voice and power to once again put a stop to anti-immigrant bills that hurt us all.

5 Years of DACA and the Future of TPS

Courtesy: Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami

Last week marked the five-year anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program, which grants protection from deportation to many young immigrants.  In the five years since the announcement of DACA, an estimated 95% of DACA youth and young adults  are either working or attending school, contributing to their local communities and the economy.

On Thursday, the White House announced it would continue to leave the program untouched, maintaining the existing protections from deportation for nearly 800,000 “DREAMers.” While we at the Florida Immigrant Coalition celebrate the news that these young people are receiving the security that should be afforded to them, we remain highly vigilant of our Haitian brothers and sisters who have not been afforded these similar and necessary protections.

Temporary Protective Status (TPS) grants individuals hailing from certain designated countries struck by natural disasters or armed conflict, such as Haiti, with authorization to remain legally in the United States. More than 58,000 Haitians are members of the program, after a disastrous earthquake ravished the island in 2011. TPS allows for recipients to remain in the U.S. with valid work permits until the unrest in their country of origin abates.

While TPS extensions are normally offered for 18 months, the Trump administration disappointingly took the unprecedented step to shorten the duration of their protected status for only another six months. This six-month extension is not enough. The country is currently facing the worst cholera epidemic in the world, with about 40,000 people living in tent homes and makeshift shelters, while facing steep economic and political turmoil.

We encourage the administration to acknowledge the unrealistic term given to Haitian recipients, who are working and making a tangible contribution to our community and economy. Furthermore, we recognize that DACA and TPS fail to provide a plan toward legal integration of these communities to the this country where they have invested so much of their lives, skills, and dreams. True comprehensive immigration reform should comprise a pathway for these communities to realize their full potential as they advance toward citizenship.

Speak to your federal representative today and ask them what they are doing to #SaveTPS 202-224-3121.

VICTORY! All 9 anti-immigrant bills are defeated in Florida!

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Florida’s Legislative sessions comes to an end as Immigrant rights advocates celebrate the defeat of all anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills proposed. The 2017 session marks one of the most aggressive sessions with 9 Trump-Inspired bills ranging from the criminalization of immigrant by raising the penalties solely based on the person’s immigration status, to punishing city and counties for wanting to protect all of their residents.

March 8th, 2017- Over 200 women from across the state mobilize to Tallahassee for International Women’s Day in demand of health, dignity and justice.

The We Are Florida! campaign led by the Florida Immigrant Coalition and its members maintained constant presence, mobilizing hundreds of community members to the state’s capitol to remind legislators of the collective power of immigrants, workers, women and LGBT members .

“In a moment where hatred and discrimination is being normalized, our immigrant, Muslim and communities of colors stood together fighting back nine bills seeking to criminalize our families and legalize racial profiling in Florida,” said Francesca Menes, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Time and time again, we see our very own Latino State Representatives selling out their own voters and supporting hateful legislation which has been legally challenged on constitutional grounds, and the courts continue to affirm local governments not being required to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.”

FLIC members and allies from the Redland Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), WeCount!, Farmworkers Association of Florida (FWAF), Young American Dreamers (YAD), Farmworker Self-Help from 6 counties across the state took over the Capitol.

One of the most highly debated bills, HB697,  threatened local democracy by stripping power away from local governments to protect its residents, threatening to withhold state funding and forcing a state-wide ban of sanctuary cities. The final party-line vote of 76 in favor to 41 against happened just days after a court blocked Trump’s executive order to withhold funds from Sanctuary Cities.  

“We find hypocritical for Latino legislators to claim to be proud of their heritage while allowing anti-immigrant legislation to progress in the state legislature and they will be held accountable,” said Daniel Barajas, Executive Director for the Young American Dreamers. “YAD continues to stand with other organizations across the state as we show these elected officials that our communities are not alone, and we’ll help them fight for the American dream.”

“It is good news that anti-immigrant bills did not pass this session but that does not excuse those representatives that voted for HB 697 in the House. We will remember, and continue the fight to recognize the full human rights of the immigrant community,” said Miguel Bernal, Vice President of WeCount! and FLIC board member.
Organizations involved in the We Are Florida! Campaign, pledged to work to educate and mobilize voters to ensure legislators closely reflect the needs of their communities.

 

2017 We Are Florida Legislative Report

The We Are Florida! campaign report is now available.  Click HERE to read the full report.

During the 2017 Florida Legislative Session over 9 anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills were introduced. Within several of days of entering office, the 45th President, Trump signed executive orders on increasing border security, increasing interior immigration enforcement, threatening to withhold federal funding from states and localities who do not enforce federal immigration laws, and a Muslim travel ban. In Florida, House Bill (HB) 697 and Senate Bill (SB) 786, which were filed by Representative Larry Metz and Senator Aaron Bean, made similar attempts targeting “sanctuary jurisdictions,” threatening to withhold state funds from municipalities, remove elected officials from office, and enforce daily penalties upwards of $5,000 for localities who do not repeal their “sanctuary” policies.

This session, with the support of coalition members, allies and through grassroots advocacy efforts, We Are Florida! successfully defeated all nine anti-immigrant and anti-refugee bills that attempted criminalize immigrants in Florida and separate our families. This report provides an overview of the bills that the We Are Florida! campaign worked on during the 2017 Legislative Session in conjunction with Florida Immigrant Coalition, its members and allies.  Click HERE to read the full report. 

Florida Sheriffs keep focus on Public Safety, not Immigration Enforcement

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The Florida Sheriff’s Association statements on April 4th, 2017 addressing the weekly list issued by the Trump administration of law enforcement agencies that have rejected Immigrant Detainer requests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,  correctly keep their focus on public safety and not immigration enforcement.  In their own words:

“Sheriffs have to follow the law. And we are being asked to do something by the federal government that at least nine – nine – federal courts have said we can’t do,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said

“We support and cooperate with ICE with their efforts to identify and deport criminal aliens,” Orange County Sheriff and FSA president, Jerry Demings concluded. “However, we also swear under oath to protect, support and defend the U.S. Constitution. And that really is what we sheriffs intend to do.”

In response, Jill Hanson, J.D., Board Chair for the Florida  Immigrant Coalition  stated:

“The Department of Homeland Security does not have the legal authority to force local law enforcement agencies to illegally hold immigrants that otherwise would be free to return to their families. We are glad to see the Florida Sheriffs Association take a clear stand.

ICE Detainer requests are unconstitutional–period. They have been challenged in courts across our nation and most recently ruled as unconstitutional by a local judge in Miami. Florida Sheriffs are the latest in the growing voices clearly saying they won’t be intimidated into becoming a pawn for Trump’s immoral and costly mass deportation force.

Immigrant families need to know that they are safe to report a crime, whether they are the victim or a witness, and have the reassurance that cooperating with law enforcement will not lead to their family being torn apart.“

Faith and Community Leaders Urge President Trump to Renew (TPS) for Haitians

After a 7 point magnitude earthquake killed 250,000 people in Haiti and quasi destroyed Haiti’s infrastructure on January 12, 2010, President Obama approved Temporary Protected Status (TPS ) for Haitians to allow them to stay in the U.S and to help Haiti recover. Over 6 years later, Haiti has yet to recover. In October 2016, Hurricane Matthew wrecked havoc in the country. More than 700 people were killed, and the entire South peninsula was destroyed. Most of the crops were wiped out, resulting in a serious case of food insecurity and daily deaths as a result of severe malnutrition. Haiti is also still struggling to recover from the world’s most significant imported cholera outbreak, with an estimated 30,000 cases expected this year, as well as the effects of the January 2010 earthquake, with tens of thousands of people still camping in tents without proper sanitation.

“TPS is up for renewal on July 22, 2017 and 50,000 anxious Haitians are holding their breath as they await the decision by the Department for Homeland Security (DHS). It is sad because in addition to worrying about the horrible situation of famine in Haiti, now family members in the U.S. are basically dying of fright, wondering what the Trump administration will do about TPS. Haiti is in no condition to absorb immigrants from the U.S. right now,” said Marleine Bastien, Executive Director of FANM (Haitian Women of Miami).

Extending TPS for another 18 months is in the United States’ national interest because on top of a multitude of problems – cholera, Hurricane Matthew aftereffects, years of political instability and turmoil – it would destabilize Haiti to deport 58,000 people and, in doing so, also instantly cut off remittances to hundreds of thousands of loved ones in Haiti. Haiti is in no position either to safely absorb an additional 58,000 persons, nor to make up for the remittances that would be curtailed.

Due to a plethora of natural disasters that have struck Haiti over the last few years and current political instability in the country, the S. Florida community will come together to urge President Trump to address the country’s growing humanitarian crisis and renew T.P.S.

West Palm Beach Shows True Courage with Resolution Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees

On March 27, 2017, the West Palm Beach City Council will be issuing a resolution to demonstrate its commitment to welcoming immigrants and refugees, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity and country of origin.

Jill Hanson, Board member of the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigrant Justice, released the following statement:

“West Palm Beach has taken a courageous first step in making immigrants feel welcome, showing that the City Commission is willing to do what it takes to protect West Palm Beach families from living in constant fear. With this resolution, West Palm Beach is putting the safety of our communities ahead of politics and we are thankful to the City Commission and Mayor Jeri Muoio for their leadership.”

Afifa Khaliq, communications director at SEIU FPSU, added, “We urge all the cities and counties in South Florida, and across the state, to stand firm against any threats to our vibrant immigrant communities. This is not the time to crumble and give in to questionable executive orders that may not even be constitutional. Thankfully, West Palm Beach is proving resilient against this toxic wave of hateful rhetoric. We applaud their bravery on this day and look forward to their next steps in the fight to welcome and protect all West Palm Beach residents.”

The decision by West Palm Beach officials to support immigrant families, regardless of status, comes on the heels of similar votes of support by leaders in Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg and Broward County.

This resolution is in sharp contrast to Miami-Dade County, where County Commissioners agreed with Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s decision to capitulate to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order mandating that localities hold undocumented immigrants for the federal government at taxpayer expense.

VICTORY! Miami Dade School Board says NO to ICE in Schools

Dozens of parents, children and community leaders packed Miami Dade County Public School (M-DCPS) headquarters on  Tuesday, March 15, to urge the School Board to strongly reaffirm its commitment to immigrant students and families, regardless of immigration status.

Jasmine Lopez, 10 years old member of American Friends Service Committee in Miami, addresses the Miami-Dade School Board.  Photo by Lis-Marie Alvarado

“We have to prevent and protect our immigrant families from being separated,” said 10-year old Jasmine Lopez, member of American Friends Service Committee in Miami and U.S. citizen whose mother is a DACA recipient. “Our people didn’t come here to harm anybody, they came to give their children a better life.”

In the end, the School Board unanimously voted to pass Board Member Lubby Navarro’s resolution so that there would be no doubt from parents and staff that M-DCPS schools are safe havens. The measure would also review current laws and district policies to determine what else the district can do to protect undocumented immigrant students.

M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho was clear that he saw the measure as a continuation of policies and actions that school administrators had traditionally held on the issue, including sending a recent letter to President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders supporting immigrant children and families. However, he was more than happy to repeat  the position several times before, during and after the meeting to reassure community members of his personal commitment to the issue.  

“On behalf of every single kid in this community, over my dead body will any federal entity enter our schools to take immigration actions against our kids,” Carvalho told reporters after the vote.  

Assembled parents and advocacy groups appreciated the efforts.

“We thank the superintendent and school board for their continuous support and leadership to protect immigrant families in Miami Dade. The implementation of all policies in place to protect our immigrant youth will be crucial in ensuring that all immigrant youth have access to an education and a learning environment that is free of fear. We look forward to working together for the safety of immigrant students and their families.” Julio Calderon organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition

Community residents came in concerned that the School Board was potentially dragging their feet on providing a strong concrete directives for teachers and school administrators that reassures families that local schools will become not part of aggressive federal efforts to deport students and parents. While school officials had been meeting for several weeks on the issue, community organizations and advocates were brought in late to the process, sparking fears that the M-DCPS Board would do little to fail to produce a concrete plan to protect families, as was done several weeks ago in Broward County.

“Life for immigrant communities under the current [federal] administration has not easy and for many of us, it will continue to get worse. We appreciate all steps taken to work together to protect our families and especially our children, who are witnessing the horrors of Trump’s Deportation Force.” Maria Bilbao organizer from United We Dream.

Meetings and conversations over the last several days had helped address some of those initial fears and have provided language directing schools to collaborate with parents and community groups on the issues. Still, with no clear steps outlined as to how this collaboration would occur, some wondered how they would hope to hold school officials accountable to the promises made to them and their children.  

“I stand in solidarity with all immigrant communities. I have a 7 year old son who is in first grade. We are all documented and my child has come on multiple occasions asking me “what is going to happen to my friends who weren’t born here.” They are having this conversations at 7 years old. I am here because I am anxious about what is happening in our country. Parents need to be reassured that their children will be protected.”  Karla Hernandez-Mats, President of united teaches of Dade

Superintendent Carvalho strongly emphasized to the Board and attending parents that current policies in place support the traditional role of Miami Dade Public Schools as safe havens that protect students and their parents, regardless of status. He hoped that both the meeting and the publicity surrounding the issue would help educate those who might be too scared to know their rights and options.  

“The fact that you are having this conversation may actually inspire parents or children who may have fears with the  opportunity to actually approach their principal or counselor,” said the superintendent to his remarks to the Board. “Schools are safe havens. They can ask any question of us. We shall not ask a question of them, but if asked we are ready to provide information and provide support.”

See the Superintendents full comments here.

Parents and community groups all over Florida have been asking their school officials to publicly support students and families with practical solutions that help them cope with the increased strain that aggressive federal law enforcement tactics are having on immigrants, regardless of status, is having on students in school and at home.

Last week, the Broward County School Board voted unanimously to become the first school district in Florida to designate itself an inclusive, safe and welcoming district and mandated that schools work with parents to create a “Safe Plan” that would prepare them in case they or loved ones are targeted for deportation.  While the measure is noteworthy because of the current political climate, it falls well within the supportive role that schools have traditionally played around immigration. Courts have long held that public schools are legally obligated to provide all students from K-12 access to an education regardless of their immigration status. Immigration enforcement officials have also have sensitive location memos in place that do not allow them to target schools, hospitals, churches, funerals and public demonstrations.

“How we treat our children is a reflection of us. It defines the future that we have,” Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie said just before the measure was passed. “The stand that we are taking here today not only sends a message to our students and our community that our schools are a safe haven for them, but it also sends a message about how they ought to view the world and how they needs to respect, celebrate and tolerate other culture. [If] we try to model love and compassion, it will move into the next generation.”

Broward School Board Passes Resolution Supporting Immigrant Families

During a powerful and emotional Broward County School Board meeting on Tuesday, March 7th, a packed room of parents, community residents and faith leaders sporting orange ribbons spoke in defense of immigrant children and families. During the widely-attended meeting, which took place at County Board headquarters at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Building (600 S.E. 3rd Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33301), the School Board unanimously approved a measure designating the Broward School District an inclusive, safe and welcoming district that protects all children and mandates that schools to work with parents to create a “Safe Plan” that would prepare them in case they or loved ones are targeted for deportation.

“This is a huge victory for all students,” said Broward parent Mica Jordan. “When you go to school, the last thing that should be on your mind is whether or not your family will be intact when you get off [the bus].”

The resolution passed at a time of great turmoil in the immigrant community, when immigrant activists are being targeted and immigrant families are being torn apart, living in fear of raids and deportation. In nearby Palm Beach, the School Superintendent declared his county’s schools “safe harbors from raids.” Meanwhile in Miami-Dade, a judge just shot down a detention policy the county adopted to follow Trump’s deportation order in the face of widespread community opposition to the President’s threats to withdraw funding to localities that are supported of undocumented communities.

“It’s a big win for the immigrant community,” said Roberto Benavides of Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER). “It means that kids are going to be protected and that they are going to be able to just be kids — focus on their education, their extracurricular actives and be a part of their communities.”

“How we treat our children is a reflection of us. It defines the future that we have,” said Broward County Superintendent Robert W. Runcie just before the final vote. “The stand that we are taking here today not only sends a message to our students and our community that our schools are a safe haven for them, but it also sends a message about how they ought to view the world and how they needs to respect, celebrate and tolerate other culture. [If] we try to model love and compassion, it will move into the next generation.”

Francesca Menes, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Florida Immigrant Coalition, agreed with Runcie, saying that she hopes that the resolution, the first supportive school board statement of its kind in the state of Florida, is one that reverberates in Tallahassee.

“On this first day of the Florida legislative session, our leadership in Broward sent a strong message to other elected officials that our immigrant children and families are an important part of our communities, regardless of their immigration status,” said Menes. “As anti-immigration bills circulate in Tallahassee, officials should take a moment to consider that at the local level, leaders recognize the contributions of immigrants and that every child has a right to live and learn without the constant fear of losing a parent due to being deported or detained.”

Parents, teachers and clergy went into the afternoon sharing personal experiences of how President Donald Trump’s Executive Orders targeting all immigrants, regardless of status, was having on students in school and at home. What community members needed from school officials was a firm commitment to protect them against aggressive immigration enforcement that is sweeping many communities in the nation.

“Unless everyone is told that the educational setting is a protected space, parents fearful of being deported on the way to school may keep students at home and we all know how crucial regular attendance is to learning,” said retired elementary school Assistant Principal Cindy Johnson, a 15-year veteran of the school district. “I personally know how seriously school staff takes your directives. I am sure that when you reiterate to them that the district is welcoming and is a protected space for all students regardless of immigration status, religion or country of origin, they will take this to heart and work tirelessly to ensure that their students feel their reassurance. They need to know that those in charge of the District strongly support this inclusive position.”

Board members tried to find a balance, wanting to show leadership on the issue while not overstepping their authority so as to make any actions reversible by other government agencies. Courts have long held that public schools are legally obligated to provide all students from K-12 access to an education regardless of their immigration status. Enforcement officials had previously been instructed in memos not to target schools, hospitals, churches, funerals and public demonstrations, though recent arrests and deportations of activists like DACA-recipient Daniela Vargas, who was targeted after leaving a news conference, have left the immigrant activist community terrified.

Ultimately, Board Members were swayed by the diverse voices who encouraged officials to not just protect students at school, but any place where education-related activities were being held. Broward School members were attentive and School Board Member Donna P. Korn offered an amendment expanding the original resolution to include bus stops, extracurricular activities like team sports and even special occasions like proms and graduations.

School Board Member Robin Bartleman, who proposed the amendment, rejoiced with fellow Broward residents after it passed. “I want to say thank you to this community for coming out and making it easy to do the right thing. I love Broward County.”

Community Access Center CEO Magaly Prezeau echoed many community service providers in telling the board how proud and thankful she was in their proactive approach to the issue. “Our families, especially Haitian families, are very scared and are really worried about sending their kids to school. They have even begun sending them to school with copies of their immigration papers in case they’re stopped in the street,” said Prezeau. “But today, you told them that they were important. That they are a protected part of our community. Thank you for passing this resolution and for being champions for our voiceless immigrant children.”