USF Students Rally in Support of Undocumented Immigrants
By SHELLY STECK REALE, Correspondent, TB Reporter
The rally was to show support, not to protest, organizers said.
TAMPA – Fear has become the constant companion of undocumented immigrants who seek to stay in the U.S. and need a place where they feel safe, said students and organizers at a University of South Florida rally.
The Here to Stay rally on Tuesday (April 11) was set up by the student organized UndocUnited more as an expression of support for undocumented students than a gathering to protest attempts by the federal government to deport them and their families.
About 100 people from Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Orange counties gathered to hear stories of fear and uncertainty, words of hope, and requests for support from the USF administration, Tampa Bay policy makers, and the community. As they stood in the sun listening, they held signs that read Education Not Deportation, No Human Being is Illegal, Immigration Built this Nation, and Let Us Be Part of the American Dream. They cheered for those who told their stories through the blare of a megaphone.
Between speakers, they chanted:
“No papers, no fear
Immigrants are welcome here!” (click to hear)
Paola Padron, a social worker for All Children’s Hospital, spoke of her experiences in her community and the emboldened actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. There are more than just a criminal element who get caught up in these raids and arrests, Padron said. Many are not criminals, she said, they are those who are pulled over for minor traffic violation and are then taken away in front of their children.
She shared a story of an undocumented member in her community whose child, born in the U.S., had relapsed with leukemia and had been given only a few months to live. Fear became the family’s constant companion.
“This family dreaded day by day activities; simple errands meant fear for their safety. Just going to the pharmacy to pick up medication for their child became a dreadful experience. If these parents had gotten entangled in a raid or an arrest, their child would have been left alone here, dying. That’s the reality. Let that sink in.” (Click to hear Paola’s story)
Ennya Blaise, 20, who spoke on behalf of the USF Students for a Democratic Society, challenged the USF administration to protect undocumented students as a sanctuary campus, encouraging USF to refuse ICE access to classrooms, dorms, cafeterias, libraries, and places of worship; to instead show solidarity for the most vulnerable members of the USF community. She called for students to organize in an effort to put direct pressure on university administration to protect the identities of their undocumented students.
“There should be no ambiguity as to USF’s position on DACA,” the letter read in part. “We are committed to the success of our students, including undocumented students and DREAMERS.”
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was created by the administration of then-President Barack Obama in 2012. It allows certain undocumented immigrants, who entered the U.S. as children, a two-year, renewable deferment from deportation. It also allows them to have a work permit.
DREAMERS are those who want to take advantage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, Act, a proposal that would first grant conditional residency to undocumented immigrants and permanent residency once they met other requirements.
McDonald said USF has committed to protecting the privacy rights of all students within the requirements of the law. She assured the crowd that USF closely monitors related policies to determine how students, faculty and staff may be impacted and to share information and advice.
USF student Camila Ozorez, the rally’s organizer, said she was thrilled with those who showed up and with those who spoke out.
“To see the turnout; to see that the university administrators, community, faculty, students care about undocumented students and are here for their support is very touching.”