Immigration activists want Tampa to be named a sanctuary city

Immigrants ask Tampa's mayor not to aid federal deportation agencies.
Nanci Palacios, center, of Faith in Florida and Alin Contreras, in green, deliver a letter Monday seeking protection for immigrants to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's spokeswoman Ashley Bauman, right. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
Nanci Palacios, center, of Faith in Florida and Alin Contreras, in green, deliver a letter Monday seeking protection for immigrants to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's spokeswoman Ashley Bauman, right.OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published November 21 2016
Updated November 22 2016

TAMPA — Alin Contreras is accustomed to not seeing her parents until evening. Some days, the 10-year-old girl is asleep when they get off work. Still, she has known they would return.

Come Jan. 20, when Donald Trump is sworn in as president, she doesn't expect to be so sure.

Her Polk County parents are undocumented immigrants and she said she fears they will be deported.

"I'm very scared that one day they won't be here when I get home from school," Contreras said.

She and an older brother were among a few dozen activists who delivered a letter to City Hall on Monday morning asking Mayor Bob Buckhorn to designate Tampa a "sanctuary city," a jurisdiction where local law enforcement doesn't cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The two siblings came without their parents, Leonel and Rosalba Contreras, who were at work in construction and agriculture jobs.

"After the election we have found there are a lot of families who are very scared of what will happen to them as the current president-elect has said he would deport the immigrants who have been in this country," Nanci Palacios, an organizer with Faith in Florida, said during a news conference outside City Hall.

"We are here to seek protection from deportation, from our families being split."

Deporting undocumented immigrants was a focus of Trump's victorious campaign, and the president-elect has since stated that he will start fulfilling that promise during his first 100 days in the White House by beginning the removal of those with criminal records.

Among the speakers at the news conference was Beatrice Silva, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who described herself as a law-abiding and hardworking member of the Tampa Bay community.

Only two of her four children were born in the United States.

Silva now fears her family will be split up.

"I am here on this day asking the mayor of this city to give us protection for our families," she said through a translator. "We are all human beings and should be protected in this great nation."

Also at the news conference were undocumented immigrants currently protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Otherwise known as DACA, the policy allows for immigrants who came to the United States before June 2007 and before they turned 16 to receive a renewable two-year work permit, protecting them from deportation.

Because DACA was passed via an executive order and not through Congress, Trump can end it.

The letter presented to the mayor's office asks for a city policy prohibiting Tampa law enforcement from cooperating with any federal immigration agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Custom and Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security.

It also asks that the city continues to provide services to everyone regardless of citizenship status.

Mayors in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia have already declared their cities as sanctuaries.

Trump is now considering cutting federal funding to cities that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Mayor Buckhorn was in New York on Monday alongside Jeff Vinik on a media tour promoting the city.

City spokeswoman Ashley Bauman said that the mayor was made aware of the activists' request and will consider it. He returns to Tampa on Wednesday.

"We will not discriminate based on who you love, the God you worship or the color of your skin," Bauman said on behalf of Buckhorn.

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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