Almost three decades ago, thousands of immigrants marched in the streets of Miami and Washington seeking immigration help.
In a distant echo of today’s immigration struggles, the Nicaraguans protesting on the streets sought a way to stay in the country without having to periodically renew work permits.
Unlike the struggle today that has yet to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants, the fight for immigration benefits in the 1980s succeeded.
It led to passage by the U.S. Congress in 1997 of the landmark Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, NACARA, which eventually granted immigration status not only to Nicaraguans, but also other Central Americans, some Cubans and eastern Europeans.
On Saturday, Nicaraguan community leaders who helped lead the status struggles of the 1980s and 1990s will stage an event in Miami-Dade to celebrate the 18th anniversary of NACARA — signed into law in November 1997 — and honor Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who spearheaded passage of the law in Congress.
The event is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. at the West Dade Regional Library, 9445 Coral Way.
In the end, said Diaz-Balart, more than 100,000 Nicaraguans benefited from the law, along with more than 300,000 Guatemalans and Salvadorans and 5,000 Cubans.
“It was one of the proudest moments of my political career,” Diaz-Balart told el Nuevo Herald in an interview. “Arm in arm with Ileana, we worked together for an achievement I’m very proud of. Nicaraguans in South Florida were facing deportation whose legal status was running out. They were in a very critical situation.”
Ros-Lehtinen echoed Diaz-Balart’s sentiments.
“I’m proud of the work that Lincoln and I did to help so many members of our community who were fearful of being deported so that they could become contributing Americans,” said Ros-Lehtinen in a statement. “Lincoln’s leadership on NACARA is a testament to what an effective legislator can do to help our community and I was proud to be a part of helping shepherd this law through Congress.”
Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart encouraged the public to attend Saturday’s event, saying it is “part of our community’s history.”
Among participants in the event will be pioneers of the pro-NACARA struggle, who helped organize the street demonstrations and lobbied congressional leaders and other U.S. officials to pass the law.