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Slate of Florida State Legislators Meet With Immigrant Youth in Orlando Dreamer Dinner

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At last night’s Dreamer Dinner in Orlando, state legislators and Dreamers spoke about the imminent threat to DACA at the federal level, as well as the ongoing need to win rights for immigrant youth at the state level.

Four Florida legislators — state Senator Victor Torres, and state Reps. John Cortes, Carlos Guillermo-Smith, and Amy Mercado, all Democrats — met with four Dreamers: Kevin Ortiz and Karen Caudillo (both DACA beneficiaries and University of Central Florida students); Dani Ramos, an advocate with the Farmworkers Association of Florida; and Eli Garcia, an advocate with the HOPE Community Center.

“As the representative of a district with a rich multi-ethnic population, I want to learn and showcase all of the wonderful accomplishments the DREAMers in my area have been able to obtain because of DACA,” said Rep. Mercado before the dinner.

Over a chicken and rice meal, the legislators and advocates spoke about DACA as well as in-state tuition and driver’s licenses. Florida has in-state tuition for undocumented youth, but only if the student applies for college within 24 months of their high school graduation. That means that Dreamers who want or need to take a more circuitous route — for example, because they need to work a few years to earn money for tuition — or Dreamers who graduated high school long before the 2014 in-state tuition law passed, can be shut out of college accessibility.

Eli Garcia came to the US from Mexico when she was 11 years old to reunite with her parents, who had gone ahead to the United States and whom she hadn’t seen for seven years. Her parents worked at a plant nursery and constantly told her to do well in school and get a good education. But she graduated high school in 2008, before in-state tuition, and could only afford to take one class at a time in college. It took her five years to get an associate’s degree, and now she is earning a BA in social work at the University of Central Florida. She and the other Dreamers at the dinner wanted their state legislators to fight for expanded tuition equality as well as for the continuance of DACA. DACA allows her to legally drive in Florida, which she needs because she lives about an hour from school.

“I have one more semester to go,” Eli said. “Me not having my driver’s license anymore will matter a lot. I’m the first person in my family to go to college. If DACA is rescinded, I’m not going down without a fight.”

The legislators at the dinner expressed support for the Dreamers and promised to take their stories back to their offices so that they could work on pro-immigrant bills statewide, including bills for immigrant students. Eli said that the Dreamers would keep in touch, and be around to push the legislators and support their bills. As she said:

At this moment, we need to resist everything that is happening [with deportations and with the end of DACA]. If DACA is taken away, it won’t just hurt Dreamers — it will hurt families and whole immigrant communities. Dreamers shouldn’t forget our roots and the obstacles that made us. We need to continue meeting with our reps because it’s especially important in these times.

Dreamers and advocates are holding their breath this week in the wake of news that DACA may be rescinded in the next few days. DACA is a program which has helped almost 800,000 young immigrants over five years by allowing them to work in the country legally and live without fear of deportation. Without DACA, Dreamers all over the country will lose the massive ground they have gained since the program was put in place, and face deportation from the only home they’ve ever known. Our Dreamer Dinner series are intended to help spread the word about DACA, explain why it’s crucial, and build up support for Dreamers. Help us by hosting your own Dreamer Dinner today.

View photos from last night’s Dreamer Dinner below:

dreamer dinner orlando