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Advocates call on Marco Rubio to protect immigrant families as Donald Trump era begins

House Speaker Paul Ryan told a national cable television audience Thursday night that federal troops won’t be coming after undocumented immigrants once Donald Trump takes power next week.

But that comment alone isn’t likely to reverse the high anxiety felt in that community.

On Saturday, Latino immigrant rights groups are planning for a national day of protest and activities around immigrant and refugee rights. On Friday, representatives from various organizations expressed their own concerns at a news conference inside the West Tampa offices of Mi Familia Vota.

“We’re here today to call on our elected officials to do their duty and make sure that millions of people in this state stay protected,” said Michelle Prieto, the Tampa Area Coordinator, Mi Familia Vota. “Men, women and children, Latinos, Muslims, families and friends will be gathering together to deliver this message that anyone who has ever wanted to come to the United States of America to start a better life, and have their families live without fear of persecution, are able to do so and have that opportunity.”

Notwithstanding Ryan’s comments Thursday, Trump has been emphatic that he intends to boot out millions of undocumented immigrants from the U.S.

In his first televised interview after his stunning victory in November, Trump told CBS’ 60 Minutes that he planned to immediately deport or jail as many as three million undocumented immigrants.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers … probably two million of them, it could be even three … out of our country, or we are going to incarcerate them,” Trump told correspondent Lesley Stahl.

The activists at Friday’s event specifically called on Florida Senator Marco Rubio to stand up to Trump if attempts to begin proceedings to deport millions of immigrants.

“Senator Rubio, like a lot of politicians, made a lot of promises in this election to be a check on the incoming administration,” said Prieto. “The Trump administration has made it clear that some of their first targets will be immigrant communities. Their aim is to deport millions of immigrants, rip millions of families apart, and drive tens of millions of immigrants and refugees into silence out of fear.”

“He promised he would be a check on the Trump administration,” added Jerry Green, Florida outreach director for VoteVets.org. “Hopefully, he lives up that promise.” But Green didn’t seem convinced that would happen, saying that the Florida GOP Senator has “remained remarkably silent during Election Day.”

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That hasn’t exactly been the case. On Wednesday, Rubio was extremely aggressive in questioning Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice to become his Secretary of State. He has yet to announce whether he’ll vote to confirm him.

Green served in Iraq in the Gulf War. He said during Operation Desert Storm he personally served with “many noncitizens residents,” all of whom he said had served the U.S. with courage and honor. He also said that more than 100,000 men and women who have served overseas since 2002 had become citizens through their military service.

“As our military seeks to recruit the best and most able among us, forcing a whole group of people to stand in the shadows, and deny them the right to serve in uniform, hurts our military and security,” Green said.

Amina Spahic immigrated to America from Bosnia in 2001, where she said she and her family were escaping religious persecution. She asked for more Americans to be empathetic to the plight of refugees.

“It’s never anybody’s choice to be a displaced person,” she said solemnly. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s choice to be an immigrant. But we came here because we were told we would be safe and we would have better opportunities. And I still believe that’s the America that we have. And we’re all going to be working to make sure that it is.”

Ed Quinones, director of civil rights with The League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), said he hadn’t heard Ryan’s comments that the House of Representatives would not approve sending a deportation force out to detain undocumented immigrants. He called the news a “terrific development.”

But he said he remained troubled, in particular by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s choice for attorney general.

Quinones said Sessions was a “racist and an anti-immigration person.”

“If Trump is in the position to comply with his rhetoric and his base, what does that mean? If he’s now putting gin someone like Sessions for attorney general, look out. So I’m expecting the worst.

“I hope Mr. Ryan can talk some reason into him, and it might mitigate that of eleven million (undocumented), they might kick out two million. I don’t know. I hadn’t heard that from Mr. Ryan.

“I’m really encouraged by that.”

Written By

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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