Activists stood outside U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s Tampa satellite office Thursday morning to ask him to support President Obama’s recent executive order allowing some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country.
The prospective presidential candidate is himself a product of immigration; Rubio’s parents came to the States from Cuba in 1956. But he's not as eager to grant amnesty to undocumented individuals as activists hope.
Pro-immigration reform activists argue that it's a matter of compassion.
Many undocumented immigrants have been living in the U.S. for decades, working jobs that the average Jane or Joe would not dream of doing, and are poorly compensated. They drive to work without insurance terrified of being pulled over and treated like an animal. They work physically debilitating hours so that they can provide for their families, just like everyone else. Their children attend school, many even go to college.
They displayed and read aloud several handwritten letters by children from across the state.
“I'm ten years old, all I want for Christmas is for people to be free and not scared," wrote Karen Martinez in one. "I just want my family to be able to stay together.”
Rubio was undoubtedly in Washington, DC during the demonstration, but their message very well may have fallen on deaf ears even if he had been at his Tampa office, one of several throughout the state manned mostly by staffers. Rubio was the target of much GOP criticism after he publicly supported comprehensive immigration reform in the summer of 2013. In recent months, he has appeared to adopt a more conservative stance on immigration, namely in placing more emphasis on securing the U.S. border instead of offering a pathway to citizenship for those already here.
Jennie Figueroa, local resident representing SEIU 1199, wants Rubio to change course.
“[Undocumented immigrants] should be able to come out of the shadows, unafraid and able to work," she said. "If they are legal they can pay taxes. It will be good for the economy.”
Figueroa translated Maria Martinez’s story. She and her husband came from Mexico in 1994. They then had three children who are now 19, 17 and 10. The couple drives illegally to get to their landscaping jobs. When their kids were small, she and her husband were trying to acquire drivers licenses, but police instead arrested her husband. The traumatic experience later inspired her daughter to pursue a career as an immigration attorney.
Martinez says that she is tired of being terrified every day that her kids will come home from school to an empty house because their parents were deported.
Jasmina Forcan, mother of two, representing Awake Pinellas, is a first-generation immigrant. She came here almost 40 years ago, in 1980, from the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia. She says she was privileged to become a citizen. Her children were two and three when she arrived, and they became citizens ten years ago. She points out that many children of undocumented workers, if deported back to their parents' birth country, after being born and raised in American schools would be stuck in a foreign land and might not even be able to speak the language.
Forcan thinks that anyone who is here and aspiring to become a citizen should have the opportunity to file for citizenship.
“America is the promised land for many people, they came before and they stayed," she said. "We can’t close the doors now for those waiting for status.”
Perla Hinojosa, Tampa Coordinator for Mi Familia Vota, said she wants to represent undocumented immigrants who are civically engaged.
“I think the Republican Party needs to find solutions," she said. "Enough with the problems, they are only looking for problems, we need solutions. That is why we are here today.”
The group walked into Rubio’s office building and knocked on his office door. When no one answered they put the letters under his door.