POMPANO BEACH — Emigrating to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago at age 6, Nirvanna Harrichan’s parents struggled to provide her and her siblings with the best educational opportunities.
But when Harrichan, the eldest of three children, finished high school, she couldn’t go to college. “I went through a period of depression,” Harrichan said. “I just didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”
Among Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and may be eligible for a path to citizenship – Harrichan tells a common story. It’s one that she and others want to keep on the congressional agenda through a series of activities across the nation and locally, including a week-long vigil and five-day fast that started last week outside the Broward Transitional Center.
“With the government shutdown, we don’t want to be ignored,” said Paula Muñoz, who became a U.S. citizen last year after arriving from Colombia 14 years ago.
Although the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill in June, it has stalled in the House. The rally was intended to put pressure on U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill, said organizers, who included representatives from Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), Dreamers’ Moms, United Families and 1Miami. Earlier, the groups staged a sit-in in Diaz-Balart’s office in Doral in west Miami-Dade County.
About 1.8 million immigrants across the U.S., including 106,481 in Florida, meet, will meet, or could meet the requirements of the deferred action initiative for undocumented youth brought to the U.S. as children, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
In Florida, most Dreamers hail from North American and Central American countries, including the Caribbean, followed by Mexico and South America, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
Until Harrichan began studying psychology at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, where she’s considered an international student, she hadn’t met anyone who was undocumented. She’s the only non-Latino member of SWER on campus, she said.
“Speaking from my family’s perspective, we all pretty much grew up being drilled into our brains that we can’t let people know this is our situation, we’re not citizens,” Harrichan said. “Maybe it’s our culture. That’s why we’re more closed off about certain things.”
In a grassy area on Powerline Road on Friday, about 50 youth and adults sang religious songs in Spanish to show solidarity with those inside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center.
“These youth, they don’t know their country,” said Pastor Felix Ruiz, founder of Liberating Handcuff Souls International Ministries, a nonprofit that supports orphanages in Haiti. “Some of them don’t even speak the languages.”
Although participants were mostly Latinos, Ruiz said he is working to boost Afro-Caribbean representation. “The Dreamers is not about a particular group or a particular language,” Ruiz said. “The Dreamers is about a dream of the youth, so I think it will open up [opportunities] for everybody.”
APRIL SIMPSON/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
RALLY FOR CITIZENSHIP: Supporters of immigration reform pose for a photo with their signs outside the Broward Transitional Center, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Pompano Beach, on Friday.