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A thanksgiving message from Raices en Tampa

By Marisol Marquez

Tampa fights for driver's licenses for all.

Tampa, FL – The U.S. prides itself in having a day to ‘give thanks.’ They call this, ‘Thanksgiving’ and it's supposed to be a time when the family unites and shares a home-cooked meal. This tradition, however, is not always shared by immigrant communities.

For Alicia, a member and founder of Raices en Tampa, this year she will not be celebrating Thanksgiving with her family. Alicia's family is split apart between two countries.

In the fall of 1998, Hurricane Mitch swept through the Atlantic Ocean. The rainfall that fell during Mitch's travel through Honduras flooded over 2 million homes and killed about 11,000 people. The U.S. permitted the entry of some Hondurans during this time. Among them were Alicia and her other four family members: her father, mother and one older and younger brother. They arrived in Naples, Florida that year and attempted to rebuild their lives.

Many Hondurans arriving at this time were extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is much like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which was given to young undocumented immigrants in June of 2012. TPS is only available for two years and those who have it must reapply, while paying hundreds of dollars for new applications while losing all of their documentation in the meantime. They can face harassment, stalking, arrests and even deportations while they wait for their renewal request for TPS to be approved.

“Sometimes when I go to renew, if the person in Naples does not know what they are doing or if they want to be nasty, they will take my license and cut it in half,” says Alicia.

Alicia's family has each had their fair share of bad experiences while in the U.S. Alicia's mother Irene was pulled over for driving without a license and the police officer threatened to jail her and have her deported. Knowing her responsibility as a mother to two minor children, Irene decided to never drive after that arrest. This quickly became a setback because, even to do a simple task like shopping for groceries, Irene had to ask someone to provide her with transportation.

“As an immigrant and one with such a temporary status, you grow up quickly and learn that the law is used to terrorize us,” says Alicia.

Irene was so afraid to drive that, in October this year, she decided to self-deport back to her native Honduras along with her youngest daughter. Irene put everything she had accumulated in 15 years up for sale. That which she did not sell she gave away to Alicia or friends and neighbors. In a week, everything this family had built with their own work, tears and struggles was only a distant memory.

“I want President Obama to know there are over 2 million deportations, now. All of this is happening without him really caring or even trying to stop them from happening. During his Thanksgiving, I hope Obama thinks about all of us undocumented immigrants who are torn apart from our families and can't share anymore meals with our families,” says Irene.

Raices en Tampa, which is group in Tampa, Florida that Alicia help found, has decided to push for a way to stop these attacks on the approximately 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in the state of Florida. So far, DREAMers Moms Orlando and United Families in Miami have endorsed the action and many others are beginning to express support.

Alicia is positive her work with Raices en Tampa will succeed. “No one deserves to be torn from their home or family for simply driving to work or going to school. We all need jobs, but how are we supposed to drive without a driver’s license? Florida should not deport anymore immigrants for driving without a license. Licenses for all now in the state of Florida!”

Raices en Tampa is collecting public support for their campaign, “Driver's Licenses for All Undocumented – Florida”. They ask that you take a picture of yourself with a sign that reads, “I support driver's licenses for all in Florida! #DL4ALLFL!” and that you email it to [email protected].

Marisol Márquez is a member of Raíces en Tampa

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