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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Illegal immigration bill leaves lasting effects on local families

Bill could hinder interpersonal relationships among students and residents

Mónica Trejo Aretes migrated to the United States 19 years ago, working as a house cleaner to provide for her four children. Three months ago, the 35-year-old Haines City, Florida, resident started her own vegetable fruit stand business, Produce Martin. 

Despite her growing success in the U.S., Trejo Aretes still fears for her identity and her family.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ immigration bill targets migrants in the workforce, leaving little to no room for work opportunities. 

The legislation pushes for stricter employee and health regulations and repeals non-citizens and DACA recipients from securing a license to practice law in Florida starting Nov. 28, 2028. 

Yet, migrant families are concerned employer compliance with the bill could seep into their education and student engagement.

Trejo Aretes is scared her children won’t be able to dedicate themselves to their studies because of the uncertainty and fear her citizenship status brings them.

“Their dreams are no longer their priority,” she said.

As her two oldest children start venturing into the world, she’s afraid their concerns will lie strictly on whether their parents are safe staying in Florida, she said. 

Trejo Aretes protested against the legislation in June, supporting the Migrants and Minority Alliance in Orlando. She wanted to do more, but she felt she could not leave her work unattended, she said. 

Now, she’s staying hopeful of future change, she said.

Ethan Maia de Needell, a 29-year-old UF alumnus and Gainesville Immigrant Neighbor Inclusion Initiative manager, believes the legislation targets vulnerable students and their families. 

“You've done everything by the books, except for coming here undocumented,” de Needell said. “It is just scary and ridiculous.”

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Crossing state borders is also going to become a severe issue for many families. The law could incriminate parents visiting their children within Florida schools as the legislation invalidates out-of-state licenses of undocumented immigrants.  

Standing against the bill and additional legislation targeting underrepresented communities, the GINI Initiative recently joined a new campaign called We Are Stronger Together, de Needell said. 

The campaign is a coalition of more than 100 local organizations, who are all explicitly welcoming everyone at their specific non-profits or business, regardless of immigration status, language spoken, gender identity, sexuality, race or religion. 

“It's truly all-encompassing, just to really push back because this most recent legislative session wasn't just an attack on the immigrant population but an attack on everyone,” he said. 

De Needell hopes the campaign reminds students and all Gainesville residents to be aware of these businesses' efforts to cultivate safe spaces.

Madres Sin Fronteras is another local grassroots organization led by migrants who work for the protection of their families and rights. 

Jennifer Molina, a 39-year-old member of Madres Sin Fronteras, understands the burden that the new legislation creates for migrant families. She’s lived the experiences as a mother and as a daughter, she said. 

She wanted to study medicine in college, but instead chose to start working after enrolling to support her family back in Honduras. Her mother never forced her, but she felt she needed to make that choice, she said.

“She didn't ask me to come here,” she said. “I begged her.” 

Now a mother, Molina has a 14-year-old son and does not want him to limit himself, she said. 

“Students will feel the pressure of making money instead of going to college for four or five years,” Molina said. “I do believe it could affect student education.”

Matthew Urra, a 20-year-old UF finance and political science junior, is worried about the bill regulating movement across Florida state lines as well as requiring hospitals to ask for patients’ immigration status.

“It would primarily impact immigrant and undocumented families and lead to the separation of those families as well,” Urra said.

Urra is fortunate his family does not have to directly worry about the legislation, yet he worries for friends who are at risk, he said.

The legislation seeks to target these individuals and treat them as criminals rather than immigrants seeking better opportunities, Urra said.

Contact Nicole at 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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