Lawmakers and lobbyists are not the only people converging on the Capitol to mark the beginning of Session. For a group of immigration rights activists, the day was not all pomp and circumstance.
Late Monday night, one hundred South Floridians piled into two buses to make the long trip up to the Florida Capitol. Led by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, the group ranges from seventy year olds to infants in strollers. They all came to Tallahassee to advocate for the rights of immigrants in Florida. Maria Rodriguez is with the coalition and she says the group represents an immigrant community thousands strong.
“Thank you, por cada una de ustedes, for each one of you, there are thousands of people that are grateful that you are here. You represent, each one of you, thousands of people who work very hard with dignity and respect, que trabajar muy fuerte con mucha dignita y mucha respeto,” she said.
Many immigrants work physically demanding, minimum wage jobs with unforgiving schedules. Gaby Garcia-Vera with the Latina Advocacy Center says many of the activists are taking a risk coming to Tallahassee this week.
“The majority of the folks that came up with us are really missing work, which for them has really big financial implications. But I think that at the end of the day, folks are coming up and sacrificing that time because they know that this fight is important and it’s not only important for them and their families but it’s important for the community,” he said.
With a list of legislative priorities, the group has a lot to get done this week. They’re opposing a number of bills which they call anti-immigrant. On that list is Senate Bill 150 filed by Travis Hutson which would enhance penalties for offences committed by immigrants, and Representative Carlos Trujillo’s House Bill 9, which would prohibit the re-entry of people who have been deported. As they prepare to speak with lawmakers, Maria Rodriguez reminds the group, their power is in their stories.
"Your story is powerful and you deserve dignity and respect. We don’t have to know everything about the bills. We just have to know that Florida depends on us, our economy, our culture, our community, our churches, our universities benefit from us, and we are part of Florida and Florida is our home," she said.
The group filled the Fourth Floor Rotunda in the Capitol Tuesday, and caught the attention of Democratic Senators Oscar Braynon and Jeff Clemens, and Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a Democrat from Miami.
“Thank you for coming, it really means a lot to send a strong signal. The governor is addressing the Senate and the House right now and it’s important for them to get the clear message that these anti-immigrant proposals are not what we should be focusing on,” he said.
The group lined up outside the House chambers, waiting patiently for the lawmakers to file out after Governor Rick Scott’s address. When the lawmakers exited, they were met with the chants of immigrants and their families.
“Somos Florida, Somos Florida, Somos Florida...” they chanted.
Somos Florida, we are Florida, they say. Tuesday night the group rolled out sleeping bags on the floors of First Presbyterian and First Baptist Church in downtown Tallahassee. Wednesday, they’ll be back in the Capitol to advocate for their rights.