Immigration activists crash Hillsborough County Democratic Party meeting


Jose Godinez-Semperio demands to know why the Hillsborough DEC won't vote on the resolution
  • Jose Godinez-Semperio demands to know why the Hillsborough DEC won't vote on the resolution
Latino activists angry with President Obama for failing to halt the deportation of undocumented immigrants clashed with Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Michael van Hoek Monday night at the party's monthly meeting in Tampa. Members of United We Dream Tampa Bay stood up and demanded to know why van Hoek had failed to bring a resolution before the entire DEC that United We Dream had submitted two months ago calling on the president to suspend such deportations.

"Do you want the Latino vote or not?" shouted Jose Godinez-Semperio to van Hoek and party members when it became apparent that the DEC was not prepared to vote on the issue. (In fact, the DEC could not vote on any issues on Monday night as they were lacking a quorum of voters.)

That led van Hoek to respond, "I will finish, please." After a couple of exchanges, he called on Semperio to sit down, and ultimately repeated the call five more times before the activist took his chair. Moments later United We Dream's Deborah Alemu began distributing copies of the resolution to DEC members, prompting van Hoek to demand that she stop.

Immigration advocates have been upset with Obama ever since he asked the Department of Homeland Security to delay review of its deportation policy,  which allows deportation of parents who are illegal immigrants while their children remain in the U.S. The president commissioned the review in March, which could have relaxed deportation rules, but he changed his position late last month when it was apparent that a rule change could have further alienated House Republicans, many of whom say they can't trust the president when it comes to immigration.

Hillsborough County Democratic Hispanic Caucus's Chris Cano says United We Dream's frustrations lie with the fact that while those deportations continue, the Hillsborough DEC has done nothing with the resolution.

But van Hoek said after the meeting that before such a resolution goes before the general membership, it needs to be reviewed by the party's steering and platform committees. "We have to have process, " he said, adding that "I felt blindsided" by the impromptu discussion that broke out toward the end of the meeting. He stressed, however, that "these are good people, compassionate people. I don't want to give any impression that we want to block them."

But when United We Dream's Alemu initially stood up and asked about the resolution, van Hoek said that he would not accept any document that criticized President Obama. Alemu says the group has re-written the resolution deleting any such direct criticism, but it does call his deportation policy "immoral."

"This is a total farce. Total bullshit," cracked Hispanic Chair Chris Cano. "This is a total parliamentary procedure, trying to stop actual work and a stance that's going to be important in this upcoming election." 

But Cano's predecessor with the Hispanic Caucus, Vic DiMaio, agreed with van Hoek. " I sympathize with these people. But this is just procedural. And we did not have a quorum, so we couldn't do anything. I feel sorry for these people, but we couldn't have done anything."

Semperio said he was angry that "families are being separated. People are being deported. And the Democrats keep supporting the president, who has deported more people [than any other president] in history."

If that name seems familiar, it should. Semperio is the 27-year-old Largo resident and undocumented FSU law school grad who had tried for over two years to gain admission to the Florida Bar before the state Legislature passed a law earlier this year paving the way for him to do so. (He was also the subject of a CL profile earlier this year.)

"We've been asking them to do this for two months, yet they weren't even going to bring it up tonight. We brought it up," Semperio told CL after the meeting. "He's basically lying," he said of van Hoek. "He's had this thing for two months."

Van Hoek insists the group will get its chance. Just not yet.

Here's the resolution:

Resolution Supporting Ending of Family Separation and Granting Affirmative

WHEREAS, President Barack Obama has fought for bipartisan immigration reform;

WHEREAS, House Republicans continue to hold immigration reform hostage, including votes

to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program;

WHEREAS, the rate of deportations is at a record high 1,100 individuals daily, thus tragically

separating thousands of families;

WHEREAS, since taking office deportations under President Barack Obama will soon hit a

record-breaking 2 million people;

WHEREAS, an estimated 200,000 deportees in a two-year period were reported to be the

parents of U.S. citizens, with these children born and raised in the United States;

WHEREAS, there are more than 5,000 children in the U.S. child welfare system because a

parent has been detained or deported, and a majority of those children are U.S. citizens;

WHEREAS, there are more than a quarter million LGBT undocumented immigrants in the

United States, who are at increased risk of abuse and mistreatment when placed in immigration


WHEREAS, torture survivors and victims of human trafficking can be detained for months

or years, further aggravating their isolation, depression, and other mental health problems

associated with their past trauma;

WHEREAS, enforcement and deportation increasingly involve state and local police in

identifying and detaining immigrants, eroding trust with local police and thereby undermining

public safety in immigrant communities;

WHEREAS, 11 million undocumented Americans have been living, contributing, and enriching

our country, but live a life of uncertainty, facing of deportation and family separation;

WHEREAS, the state of Florida is home to approximately 900,000 undocumented immigrants;

WHEREAS, undocumented immigrants pay $11.2 billion in state and local taxes annually in

Florida, and granting work authorization to these immigrants through an administrative relief

program would generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenues;

WHEREAS, the Democratic Party supports federal immigration reform providing

undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Hillsborough County Democratic Party stands in

solidarity with those threatened by family separation and urges President Barack Obama to

utilize executive action to suspend, delay, or dispense with the deportations of immigrants

whose removal would have an adverse impact on the United States;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Hillsborough County Democratic Party urges

President Obama to dismantle the immoral policing apparatus that has led to the persecution,

criminalization, and incarceration of the Hispanic community.

Administrative Relief to Undocumented Residents

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