MIAMI – Ahead of the November elections, a coalition of labor and immigrants’ rights groups is helping South Florida residents become naturalized citizens. The South Florida AFL-CIO, in partnership with the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the American Immigration Lawyers Association hosted a two-day citizenship workshop beginning on National Citizenship Day, September 16.
Ivan Parra of Florida New Americans, a project of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said he is “so happy” to help people in his community to apply for citizenship irrespective of their financial situation.
“It’s good for the economy, good for the city, good for the families,” said Parra, “we are making a difference because many people don’t have the opportunity for a private lawyer, the fees are very high, $680 per family, that’s an obstacle for working families.”
Ivan told People’s World that there are “almost one million people in Florida eligible to be a U.S. citizen,” but aren’t because of a lack of funds or education on the matter. He said it is Florida New Americans’ job to fix this.
Ivan is an immigrant from Colombia who has been in the United States for 12 years. A lawyer and professor by trade in Colombia, he left his country for the U.S. where he saw rampant exploitation and a lack of knowledge among immigrants while working in factories.
“I decided ‘this isn’t right,’ we should be more organized. Understand we can make changes, we are people with voices.”
According to the Pew Research Center, undocumented immigrants “account for one-in-twenty people in the labor force” of the United States, or 5 percent. In Florida, the state with the third largest undocumented immigrant population, that number is closer to 7 percent.
Gruselda Dowe, member of Teamster Local 769 and a native of Saint Kitts, an island in the West Indies, never saw the practical purpose of becoming a U.S. citizen. She has been in the country for over forty years, is married to an American, and has an American son and three American grandchildren.
“I never contemplated being a U.S. citizen,” said Dowe, “however, in the last year-and-a-half to two years, and through my involvement with the labor movement… I understand now the importance of becoming a U.S. citizen and subsequently having the right to vote.
“With the political turmoil, the issues of inequality and the lack of quality education, we have to be able to make an impact in our society. For the development of our future leaders, this is why, at this juncture, I’ve decided to become a citizen of the United States.”
One contributing factor to that political turmoil is the racist rhetoric employed by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. In a move called “ironic” in a statement by Andy Madtes, President of the South Florida AFL-CIO, Donald Trump also planned to speak in Miami that same evening of National Citizenship Day, Sept. 16, at the James L. Knight Center.
“The Constitution, written by immigrants, outlines the guiding principles of what makes America great- our diversity,” the statement reads, “Donald Trump claims to defend the Constitution, but his hateful rhetoric shreds everything it stands for.”
The South Florida AFL-CIO and its community partners are hosting a free immigration information session on October 12 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., and an additional clinic is planned for October 22 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Events take place at their union hall located at 4349 NW 36th Street, Miami FL, 33166.
Photo: South Florida AFL-CIO: Marie, an applicant for citizenship at the South Florida AFL-CIO’s immigration workshop, holds a sign expressing her desire to vote with other citizens of the US.