The plight of immigrants brought to the United States as children reverberated throughout national politics this week. But DACA sparked lively debates in Florida as well. Here's an update on the debate around the program, which is slated to expire in March.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program is a bridge for immigrants brought to the country as children. Recipients are protected from deportation, and get legal work permits, as long as they renew them.
In September, the Trump Administration started phasing out DACA, sending immigrants and activists reeling. Florida Democrats are putting on the pressure to find a fix for the country’s estimated 800,000 DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers. Cristian Avila says his parents gave up everything when they brought him and his siblings to the U.S.
“As a child, I was raised to put my head down when there was a police car driving next to us. Every time we drove by a cop car, my parents would tell me 'Put your head down son so the police doesn’t see you'. The fear of any authority pulling us over, or even questioning us at the time was huge,” Avila said.
State Senator Daphne Campbell, a North Miami Beach Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would encourage Congress to extend DACA. It's largely ceremonial, but it meant to send a strong message from the Florida Legislature.
“We have to understand these children didn’t ask to go through all this. These children didn’t ask to come to America when they were little. These children are innocent. And I don’t think they should pay for any wrongdoing by their parents,” Campbell said.
Patrick Ariel Sabillon came to the U.S. after fleeing gang violence in Honduras. He’s not on DACA, but he has friends and family who are.
“All I want is for my friends to live with the peace of mind that the nation they call home will not leave them behind. That they won’t be expelled to some foreign land. I want them to have the opportunity to continue making America, a nation founded by immigrants, the great country that it is. I can’t explain to you guys the anxiety, the sadness, the fear and the anger that the immigration crackdown has brought to our communities,” Sabillon said.
The testimony of Sabillon and other activists struck a chord with Republican Senator Rene Garcia of Hialeah, whose family is Cuban.
“The dreamers are those that understand what it is to be an American. The dreamers are the ones that are dreaming to have a better life, to make sure they can do better, not only for their families, but for their communities," Garcia said. "And that is why it is so important, so critical that we send this message back.”
Other Republicans are weighing in too. In a move that’s surprising his critics, Governor Rick Scott published an op-ed in USA Today this week defending DACA. Scott is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate. And state Senator Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, chalks it up to election year acrobatics.
“While I and those around me welcome any ally in our fight to protect dreamers and their families, Rick Scott is going to have to prove himself with actions, rather than words, before anyone takes him at his word,” Farmer said.
This all comes after President Donald Trump reportedly used profanity to disparage immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and African countries. Some of his supporters aren’t holding back either. North Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz was on MSNBC this week.
“I would say the conditions in Haiti are deplorable. They are disgusting. Everywhere you look in Haiti it was sheet metal and garbage, when I was there,” Gaetz said.
His Republican colleague in the Florida Senate, Doug Broxson of Pensacola, thinks lawmakers should leave federal immigration policy to Washington. But Republican Rene Garcia worries the partisan Congress is incapable of getting it done, especially in an election year. But he’s hopeful. He says dreamers are the future of the state, and of the Florida Legislature.
Senator Campbell’s measure has two more committee stops before it heads to the floor.