Francesca Menes: Celebrating Florida’s immigrants during Immigrant Heritage Month

immigrants in us (Large)
Francesca Menes

As Immigrant Heritage Month ends, I’ve taken the time to reflect on my humble beginnings and all the opportunities this great country has provided me with.

As the director of policy and advocacy of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, I have worked with many, many immigrants who have made America their home in order to escape injustice, receive an education, seek economic opportunities or to provide a better life for their families. While immigrants may have diverse backgrounds and heritage, one thing holds true for everyone: they came to America for a better life.

As the 2016 presidential election nears, the need for comprehensive immigration reform continues to be a popular topic of conversation. As a swing state, Florida will be at the forefront of America’s mind with its influential electoral votes. Our state is home to millions of unique, ethnically and politically diverse individuals. It is our responsibility to use our unique vantage point to make our state and national representatives, take immigration reform seriously and make America the land of opportunity again.

Having worked to defend the basic human rights of communities of color, women, the working class, low-income and migrant people over 10 years, my one wish is to see a new Florida free of racism and exclusion — a place where fair treatment exists for all and no one should have to live in fear, including hardworking immigrants. At the Florida Immigrant Coalition, we are seeking an immigration system that keeps families together and provides a clear and inclusive path to legalization.

It isn’t simply a moral necessity to address the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States — it would unlock unlimited economic potential. Creating a pathway to legalization would increase the GDP by 4.8 percent and lower the hefty federal deficit by $1.2 trillion. On the other hand, if our country pursued a policy of mass deportation, it would lower the GDP by 6 percent and cost the government $400-$600 billion in spending. By keeping these families together, other American families can create greater economic opportunity for their children and build a better future for the next generation.

Amazingly, we continue to see bipartisan support for immigration reform in poll after poll, with 75 percent of Americans supporting reform and 77 percent of voters viewing mass deportation as overwhelmingly unrealistic. Since 2011, Floridians have stood up and said, “We are Florida!” and we do not want anti-immigration laws in the Sunshine State. Every year since the start of the “We are Florida!” campaign, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, its members, and allies have worked together on the campaign to promote legislative priorities for immigrant families and workers in Florida. This year, a total of nine anti-immigrant bills threatened families in the state of Florida, but the participation and commitment of over 1,000 families and allies defeated all nine bills. Together, we are Florida!

It is time Floridians demand the same of our national leaders. The immigration system is broken and we need to modernize it to meet the needs of 21st century America. We can start by making simple changes to provide opportunities to our youth — those attending Florida colleges and universities; and those developing skills and learning a craft at technical and vocational schools across the country — to stay and create jobs here in America. Here in Florida, over half of the STEM graduates in our state’s most research-intensive schools were foreign-born. We need to give these graduates the opportunity to stay and create jobs here in our state.

By standing together, we can demand change, stop anti-immigration laws and encourage reform. This Immigration Heritage Month, I ask you to think deeply about where you came from and share your story with others. America’s foundation is built on immigration. We are a melting pot and a land of opportunity. Don’t forget your roots and help those families make America their home today by electing a candidate that will pass reform this year.


Francesca Menes is Director of Policy and Advocacy of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide coalition of more than 65 member organizations and over 100 allies working toward the fair treatment of all people, including immigrants. Francesca is also a candidate for Florida House of Representatives, District 108.

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