With the end in sight, different groups are closing out the 2016 lawmaking session in different ways. Immigration activists convened at the state capitol Thursday to "bury" a package of dead bills.
"We are Florida! Somos Florida! Nou se Florid!" they cried.
"We are Florida!" is the chant of a group of immigration activists, both Hispanic and Haitian. They came to Tallahassee three months ago, chanting and brandishing signs and banners. Now they’re heralding the close of session, carrying a symbolic coffin, and laying to rest a series of anti-immigrant bills. Activists laid flowers on the “casket” and even lit candles for the dead legislation. Unsurprisingly, Jose Luis Marantes from the Florida Immigrant Coalition is happy to see the bills go.
“We see ourselves here to celebrate with victory and with power, and if you see the symbolism in front of you, we are here to bury these anti-immigrant laws once and for all,” he said.
This session, activists opposed a raft of bills they say would criminalize immigrant communities and separate families. Here’s the Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Francesca Menes, who is also a candidate for the Florida House, district 108 in Miami-Dade County.
“We started the session off with nine bad, anti-immigrant bills. Bills that would criminalize mothers and fathers who re-united with their families. Bills that would increase penalties for undocumented immigrants who committed criminal offenses. Bills that would actually give the governor authority and power to call the military to block refugees for coming to our state. We are happy to say, one more day away from session ending, that these bills are dead,” she said.
Paul Mondesir is a Haitian activist with the Quaker group American Friends Service Committee.
“We have to increase our knowledge, our wisdom, to consider immigrants as a gift to the community,” he said.
Democratic Senator Dwight Bullard of Miami stood with the group Thursday, saying lawmakers should not forget that many of Florida’s industries depend on immigrants.
"When we look at companies like Walt Disney World, when we think about our agricultural industry, when we think about our tourism and hotel industry, it becomes critically important that we address the concerns, the needs and the wellbeing of all people of Florida, and stop being about the business of exclusion," he said.
While democrats in both chambers opposed the bills, many of the measures stopped at the door of Republican Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. That senator chairs the Judiciary Committee, and refused to give the bills a hearing.
Activity in the Florida Capitol is winding down, as lawmakers are expected to close out the session on time. But Daniel Barajas says the work of immigrant activists isn’t done yet.
“We’re going to take this to the polls. First we brought it here to the capitol, now we’re taking it to the polls. We’re gonna make our presence felt with numbers, with voter turnouts,” he said.
Florida’s presidential primary is Tuesday March 15th.