Immigration activists in Tampa call for the end of deportations

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Shouting, "ICE, detentions, stop the deportations," a group of around 30 immigration activists marched along several blocks of 7th Avenue in Ybor City on Saturday afternoon, protesting against deportations of undocumented immigrants by the Department of Immigration and Customers Enforcement, as well as calling for the state to provide drivers licenses for such immigrants.

Within the last week the Florida Legislature has passed the most far-reaching legislation in support of such immigrants probably in the state's history. They passed a bill lgranting in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, and passed a measure that will allow Jose Godinez Samperio, an undocumented law student from Tampa, to practice law in Florida. But activists, who initially gathered in Ybor's Centennial Park under a consistent drizzle, want more.

"The struggle for immigrant and workers rights is a struggle that must be waged in the streets," said Matt Hastings with the Tampa branch of Students for a Democratic Society. "Not just on May Day, but consistently as the attacks on workers grow stronger and stronger."
The demonstration was the second in three days organized by the group Raíces en Tampa, who used May Day to protest in front of the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service in the Westshore part of Tampa. May Day has traditionally been a day for U.S. workers to demand demand better working conditions, but within the past decade it's also become a day of major protests when it comes to immigration reform. The largest march for immigrant rights on May Day came in 2006, when as estimated 1.5 million people came out in cities across the country.

Activists say If driver's licenses were issued in Florida (as they are in at least 9 states and now the District of Columbia), less people would be detained and ultimately deported. They contend that roads would also be safer once licenses are issued, due to a migrant being able to purchase vehicle insurance.

The U.S. has deported about 2 million illegal immigrants in the five years since President Barack Obama took office. Some Americans say the administration is too aggressive in enforcing immigration law, while others say it's not aggressive enough.

At one point during the debate on in-state tuition for undocumented children on the floor of the House of Representatives in Tallahassee on Friday, an amendment to allow undocumented immigrants the chance to receive a driver's license was proposed by Rep. Randolph Bracy (D-Jacksonville), but it was ultimately rejected.

Last year a measure that would have qualified residents with federal deferments on their status to receive a Florida driver license received overwhelming support in the Legislature. But Governor Scott vetoed that measure.

"We are here to work," said Cielo Gomez with the Lutz-based Casa Chipas, a nonprofit dedicated to educating Latino immigrants into integrating successfully in Tampa Bay. "We are not bad people. We just want to work without fear."

But with the 2014 legislative session now officially in the books, any such reform will have to wait another year.

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