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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

North Central Florida’s Hispanic communities fight for the rights of migrants

Protests began in early June across North and Central Florida

A month has passed since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1718 into law. The bill focuses on the regulation of migrants working in Florida.

The legislation, going into effect July 1, requires legal verification for any employer with 25 or more employees. It imposes penalties for employing unauthorized immigrants and intensifies penalties for human smuggling. 

The law also prohibits local governments from issuing identification cards to unauthorized immigrants, invalidates identification cards issued to migrants in other states and requires hospitals to report data on the costs of providing health care to migrants.

Residents of Hispanic communities in North and Central Florida are making efforts to fight the recently imposed legislation.

The Migrants and Minority Alliance of Orlando and Guerreras Tu Voz es Mi Voz have come together to amass groups and begin protesting in Volusia County.

“My biggest concern in this situation is the separation of family,” Areli Perez said.

Perez, is the 43-year-old president of agriculture for the Migrants and Minority Alliance in Orlando, as well as the director of Guerreras Tu Voz es Mi Voz, two organizations that cater to health, employment and advocacy assistance to migrant and minority communities in Florida.  

Immigrants are seen as a burden to the nation but what a lot of people do not realize is their effort to do difficult jobs, jobs a lot of people don't want to do, Perez said.

Perez and Maria Elena Valdivia, the 50-year-old president of the Migrants and Minority Alliance,  spoke about the barriers behind growing their advocacy platform.

“My organization is small, it's new, so I don't have resources,” Valdivia said.

Before protesting, Valdivia and Perez ensured people in the community were informed about their rights and the steps to take action. They held an information session at Mission San Jose of Saint Peter Catholic Church in Pierson, Florida, June 1.

For Valdivia, the most important element is to involve as many people as possible.

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“This law will affect all of us,” she said.

Valdivia is interested in expanding the protests to other areas like Alachua County. She wants to find more organizations in those parts of Florida with a goal similar to hers, she said.

Protests have also begun occurring in Jacksonville.

Edwin Rodriguez, a 50-year-old Jacksonville resident, organized a protest June 1 with his shipping company, Encomiendas Latinas Jacksonville.

Most of his clients are Latino, Rodriguez said.

For 13 years, Rodriguez's company has specialized in product shipping to Mexico, Central America, part of South America, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Rodriguez has already planned two events. The first event was an information meeting that took place May 27, where members of the community discussed people’s rights to protest. The second event, and his first protest, occurred June 1.

Rodriguez needed to act immediately, he said. He felt a responsibility to support the Latino community and to support his clients.

“It hurt my heart to see that families were throwing away all their furniture, their beds, everything from their apartment because they were planning to leave their house empty and go to other states,” he said. “I had an opportunity to do something.”

Through social networks, Rodriguez can communicate with Perez and Valdivia’s organizations. They plan to work together and gather larger crowds for their protests all throughout June.

Mónica Trejo Aretes, a 35-year-old resident of Haines City, Florida and the Owner of Produce Martin, has come to the United States to pursue a more stable and promising lifestyle.

“We work to do our best,” she said.

Trejo Aretes, left Mexico and has lived in the United States for 19 years. Three months ago, she opened her grocery business, Produce Martin, in Haines City, Florida. With four children, Trejo Aretes wants to give her family the best living conditions possible, she said.

Trejo Aretes closed her business to show her solidarity with other Latino business owners June 1.

“I closed for myself and my family and for everyone because we are all a family,” she said.

Trejo Aretes is concerned about the future of her children more than anything.

Her children were not born in the United States just to be taken from her because the law wants her gone, she said.

Although proud to pursue her dreams in Florida, Trejo Aretes explains that if Florida does not want the contribution of immigrants, there is no reason to stay here.

“The state is going to lose more when we realize that Florida doesn't deserve us to be here,” she said.

Protests targeting the legislation are scheduled to continue throughout the month of June.

Contact Nicole at nbeltran@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @nicolebeltg.

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Nicole Beltran

Nicole Beltran is a second-year journalism and economics major. This is her first semester as the race and equity reporter. She has previously worked as a translator and editor for El Caimán. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, trying new foods and drawing.


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