Students lobby leaders for immigrant rights

Paula Zamudio moved from Colombia to Miami when she was 18 months old.

“I’ve always been undocumented and I’ve always known it,” she said. “My first memory as a child is not of me riding my bike, playing house, being with my dogs. It was me going to my lawyer’s office.”

Zamudio, 24, is president of Dream Defenders at Florida International University, a student organization that advocates for equal rights in college campuses across the state.

About 60 students from six state schools — FIU, Miami Dade College, Florida State University, Florida A&M University, the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida — fanned out at the Capitol on Tuesday, delivering their own version of the State of the State Address, before Gov. Rick Scott delivered his.

While Scott’s speech focused on tax cuts and teachers’ salaries, the Dream Defenders lobbied for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, for an end to deportations, for repealing zero-tolerance policies and for reforming or repealing the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.

“We want legislators to know that young voters in their communities are no longer asleep or ignorant to the issues,” said Phillip Agnew, 27, executive director of Florida Dream Defenders. “We are presenting to the lawmakers that we have a new agenda. We call it The Dream Era, and we are prepared to organize and fight for that new agenda.”

Marie Paul, a student at UCF, was the first Dream Defender to speak at a press conference inside the Capitol. She is president of the UCF Dream Defenders chapter.

“Today, our families live divided by deportation and incarceration. Today, our dreams are being diminished and destroyed,” said Paul, 22. “No more.”

Lucious Mobley, 24, a student at MDC, was among the students who hopped on a bus from Miami to Tallahassee, picking up students in Orlando and Gainesville.

For him, repealing zero-tolerance policies was the most important issue.

“Once you have a criminal record, they stop you from doing all the extra stuff that you really want to do,” he said. “So basically they cut off your aspirations and your goals because you have a criminal record on paper.”

Mobley, who lives in Liberty City, was arrested for selling cocaine when he was 21. He says he served 21 days in jail. He went back to study and says he never dealt drugs again. Three years later, he doesn’t have a driver’s license or a right to vote.

“Basically, they cut off your freedom for just one arrest,” he said. “And just because you make one simple mistake, that one mistake stops you from everything that you want to do.”

Margarito Cruz, 25, who lives in Homestead, also traveled on the bus. He crossed the border from Mexico with his aunt when he was 5. He finished high school, but never went to college because he would have to pay out-of-state tuition, which is three times higher than in-state rates.

“I would like to go back to school. That’s why I’m in this fight for the immigrant issue, so they can do in-state tuition and I can be able to afford to go to school,” Cruz said.

The Dream Defenders also are pushing for immigration reform that would give a pathway for citizenship to 11 million undocumented people in the country.

“We don’t want it to take 20 years because at one point they start getting to the back of the line, and we start realizing what the back of the line means,” said Zamudio, a junior majoring in finance and economics.

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