Immigration reform targeted during Ybor City May Day celebration

05/02/13 Janelle Irwin
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Immigration reform could become a reality now that some United States Senators have suggested ideas that would provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people. Activists made that their focus Wednesday during a May Day protest in Ybor City’s Centennial Park. The ACLU of Florida’s Paola Everett said the legislation is a start, but more needs to be done.

"We really need to make sure that this immigration reform includes fair access to education. That it allows people to go back to their home countries and see the families that many of them have not seen in decades, you know? That really respects the freedom of speech and freedom of expression in any language."

The group lined pieces of paper stretching about 30 feet across a covered pavilion at the park. Each paper highlighted challenges immigrants would face along the pathway to citizenship provided in the Senate bill. Jesus Guevara is an undocumented immigrant facing deportation next week. He told his story to a crowd of 35 teary-eyed immigration reform advocates. While trying to get a job, Guevara was fingerprinted through the e-verify system that checks a person’s legal work status. He was then held for nearly a week accused of being someone he wasn’t. That was in 2010 and his legal options have run out. Now Guevara said through a translator he’s hoping working with community activists will buy him enough time to see the immigration bill through.

"I don't dare take my kids to Mexico with the violence that there is there. Their lives would be in danger. My own life will be in danger as it is if I get sent back and so I am concerned for their safety, but I'm also very concerned about what will happen to them if they are left here alone without me."

Estefania Galvis with the Tampa Dream Defenders wants legislation to allow people living in the country illegally to get a driver’s license. She said right now many people are getting deported after being arrested for driving without one.

"It is feeding in to the prison complex. The privatization of prisons is really really high in Florida and what they are doing is pushing more and more for us to end up in jail so the prisons get more and more money."

The bill introduced by a bi-partisan group of eight U.S. Senators including Florida Senator Marco Rubio would require undocumented immigrants to pay a fine, unpaid taxes and application fees for a temporary work permit. Immigrants could only apply for a green card after ten years. Gay rights activist Felipe Sousa wants the Uniting American Families Act included in the bill. That would allow people in same sex relationships to sponsor a partner for citizenship.

"We are asking for the mandatory employment provision of the bill to be completely removed because LGBT people can still get fired just for who are. We're also asking for the end of harsh enforcement for things like the border, e-verify and other provisions that could potentially hurt LGBT immigrants tremendously."

According to Politico, Senator Rubio worries that addition would kill the bill’s chance of passing. That’s because evangelical conservatives who support the immigration measure as it is wouldn’t support it if there were provisions for same sex couples. But Sousa said he thinks it would actually boost support for the bill.

"There is also a huge amount of what we call 'blue dog Democrats' - people who are moderate Democrats - for example, senator Hagan and Senator Tester who actually voted against the Dream Act, voted for the repeal of Don't Ask and recently came out for marriage equality. Which would bring people like that, who would normally not vote for immigration reform as it is."

May Day is also known as International Workers’ Day. It’s celebrated in 80 countries worldwide in support of labor movements. Dustin Ponder is with the AFL-CIO. He said labor and immigration issues go hand in hand.

"Five German immigrants, an English immigrant, and two American labor organizers were framed and actually killed for a bomb thrown by an agent-provocateur during the Hay Market Affair. And these fearless fighters for immigrant and workers rights, brought the eight-hour working day to all Americans"

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio spoke in Lakeland Wednesday at the same time another immigration protest was happening. He told a Republican group that a pathway to citizenship is the only reasonable option to deal with the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

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