In St. Pete, activists rally around, offer help to family of deported Plant City man

Parishioners, clergy and progressive activists pledged financial and emotional support to the wife and six children of Luis Blanco.

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click to enlarge Luis Blanco's wife, Lourdes, appears emotional as she stands at center stage among dozens of supporters. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Luis Blanco's wife, Lourdes, appears emotional as she stands at center stage among dozens of supporters.

It's unclear where Luis Blanco is, what he'd do in Mexico and when he will see his family again.

But local progressive activists wanted to let his pregnant wife and six children know that one thing was certain: The community has their back as they face the tribulations brought on by the deportation of their sole breadwinner.

As more than 100 people rallied at Allendale Methodist Church Thursday night, the diverse group of supporters —Muslims, Christians, members of the Native American community — vowed to raise money to cover the family's rent, and to fight for immigration policies that don't tear families apart.

"We are here because we know this is even bigger than Luis. All the families that are torn apart, all the families that are targeted," said Rev. Andy Oliver, senior pastor at Allendale. "Luis did nothing but love his family and provide for them and contribute to a community. And so we here, as a community now are standing in solidarity and saying this is not right. This is evil. And we're going to stand with you for as long as it takes."

click to enlarge In St. Pete, activists rally around, offer help to family of deported Plant City man
Kate Bradshaw

He then told Blanco's wife Lourdes, who stood near him onstage, that the event's organizers had come together earlier in the evening and decided to pool money together each month to help them cover the family's rent.

The moment was a touching resolution to what was perhaps one of the most dramatic local news stories of the week: a husband and father of six — seven, soon — approaches an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Tampa, surrounded by concerned activists and clergy.

And despite their impassioned pleas, Luis Blanco, a 20-year Plant City resident, was taken away. 

Though undocumented, Blanco had been allowed to stay in the U.S. under a humanitarian visa due to his being the family's sole earner.

That changed under President Donald Trump.

Fear of immigrants, said Maria Jose Chapa, an organizer with Service Employees International Union, isn't based in reality, but rather "political theater and scapegoating," which allow misconceptions about undocumented immigrants to proliferate.

click to enlarge Luis Blanco's wife, Lourdes, appears emotional as she stands at center stage among dozens of supporters. - Kate Bradshaw
Kate Bradshaw
Luis Blanco's wife, Lourdes, appears emotional as she stands at center stage among dozens of supporters.

"The pathway to citizenship is not easy, as some critics have daftly assumed. Immigrants don't choose to be undocumented," she said. "Our immigration system is racist, discriminatory and difficult to maneuver. My own child was undocumented for eight years before I could adjust her status. Contrary to popular belief, undocumented immigrants do not receive government assistance... Contrary to popular belief, undocumented immigrants pay taxes; far more than multi-billion [dollar] corporations and our current sitting president."


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