Guatemalan-Maya Center helping people navigate new immigration laws
The Guatemalan-Maya Center said there’s been a surge of people needing help, including relocation, because they are fearful of the state’s new immigration legislation, SB1718, which takes effect July 1.
"We are explaining the bill to people to minimize families fleeing out of fear," said Danna Torres with the GMC.
"I have a fear of what could happen to me, my family," a local construction worker from Guatemala said. "I could go to another state, and I could have another opportunity instead of staying here and risking it all."
He said he doesn't have papers to work, but said he has sacrificed too much to be in this country to leave.
He's hopeful things will change by July. Otherwise, he is prepared to move. "If I stay here and I don't have work, I'm going to be homeless. I'm not here to be homeless so that's why I started debating if I was going to leave," he said. He's been working with GMC in Lake Worth Beach on what his next steps should be.
The GMC usually serves 1,000 families a month but because of the legislation the need has become 1,300 plus.
"Right now, it's all over the place," said Torres. "They're just going wherever they may have family, wherever they feel that they can reach, how much gas do we have in the tank, how far can we go.
"A lot of them are leaving for surrounding states, which are not much better than Florida."
The GMC members have been contacting similar resource centers in states, including Georgia, Alabama and Texas, and compiling a list of resources for families. "As we make the recommendations or as we find the organization, we call to go through that experience so that way we know exactly where to send people, what information to give them," Torres said.
They've also launched a fundraiser to help families afford to drive to places are more immigrant-friendly, the GMC said.
"Obviously being undocumented in the states there's always a risk so there's nowhere you can go where you're going to be safe but you're going to have more access to resources," Torres said. "Colorado has been one of those states, New Jersey has been one of those. It's tricky because they might have better policies and legislation, but they might not have resources and services available like New York." The money raised would create an emergency fund for high risk families to cover gas, food, car maintenance and housing when they relocate. "We don't want our families to leave but if you feel like you have to leave, we want to make sure you're doing it in the right way," Torres said. "Our undocumented residents they bring so much value to our community, and it's not necessarily labor value," Torres said. "So we're going to see those impacts in the next couple of months.
The GMC is also calling on local attorneys to volunteer their time to answer questions and provide legal advice for those impacted.
"We are hosting legal fairs in partnership with legal aid to do power of attorney docs for parents whoa re fleeing and want to transfer custody while they are relocating," Torres said. "We have had some families who are fleeing but are getting detained as they leave the state so this is to protect their kids."
The GMC is also educating families on what to do if they're stopped by law enforcement.
They're distributing "I know my rights" cards that they can present which addresses their 4th amendment right to protect them from searches and 5th amendment right to remain silent.
Donations can be made on its Facebook site.
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