With anti-immigration rhetoric reaching extreme levels in the early stages of the Presidential race, reaching its ugliest incarnation when a certain Republican frontrunner characterized undocumented immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists,” it comes as no surprise to see supporters of immigration reform and the Latino community in general begin to organize their influence and fight against the hyperbole.
In Tampa Wednesday afternoon outside of La Teresita Restaurant in West Tampa, that response materialized at an event marking Hispanic Heritage month and announcing efforts to push for increased voter registration and naturalization of permanent residents in the Latino community.
“As we have seen lately, there's been a direct attack on immigrant communities and our contributions to this country were undermined,” said Pamela Gomez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We're non-partisan, non-political, but we understand that when there are human rights violations that affect us, we can not be quiet. A large portion of the immigrant population of the United States is Latino or Hispanic, with that taken account of, this month we celebrate the contributions to the Hispanic community in the U.S., and won't forget all of the contributions made by immigrant populations in this country.”
These efforts will be mobilized in the coming months through citizenship clinics, which will provide the materials and legal advice for those looking to attain American citizenship.
“What we are doing is trying to bring the message to the community who want to become citizens and register to vote,” said Ana Lamb of SEIU. “We are not pushing anybody to one party or the other because we are non-partisan. What we want is to invite the community out this Saturday the 26th. We're going to have a clinic, we're going to help the community to complete the package for immigration. We're going to have lawyers and we're going to help those go through the process. We don't give classes, it's just the paperwork that needs to be done.”
The first of these Citizenship Clinics will be held this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Mi Familia Vota, located at 4311 W. Waters Ave, Tampa, FL, 33614. The first one was described as a screening to find those who qualify, and starting from the October 24 clinic, allowing those eligible to return and finish the process.
Those involved hope that movements like these will change the negative depiction of immigrants and Latinos that has been pushed recently and replace it with a very large and economically important voting bloc that could be integral in 2016.
“Hispanic businesses this year alone will contribute $600 billion to the economy,” said Liz Gutierrez, the CEO and founder of Enterprising Latinas, a local non-profit dedicated to economically empowering Hispanic women. “Yet there seems to be this myth that we take away from the wealth of the country versus giving to the country. So we want to give our culture and music and flavor to this nation which everyone seems to enjoy very well, but we also contribute financially in so many other ways. We are a growing population, in this county in particular there are more than 300 thousand people with 113 thousand registered to vote. What we really do need to do is for us to come together and demonstrate our power, not just economically, but now our electoral power.”