To Dominican Republic native Pamela Gomez, the reason immigrants help the economy is a no-brainer. “We are so creative, and we come with cultural and economic capital, with so many different understandings,” she says. Gomez, a graduate student in Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the University of South Florida, sees this every day in her work as a community organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC).
In the congressional district on the central Florida panhandle, one of the areas around the state where she works, 5.1 percent of all residents are immigrants. These immigrants paid $208.4 million in taxes in 2014 and generated nearly $700 million in spending power. Most are of working age, or between the ages of 25 and 64, and the majority have finished high school and completed at least some college.
Even though we immigrants are contributing members of our communities, we often live isolated in our own lives because there is no process in place to help us navigate the system.
But Gomez believes that Florida’s immigrants could be even more engaged if they had better access to education. “Even though we immigrants are contributing members of our communities, we often live isolated in our own lives because there is no process in place to help us navigate the system, to see what available opportunities exist for us,” she says. “You have to get very creative!” The FLIC stages various events throughout the year, including monthly citizenship clinics across the state.
FLIC is comprised of more than 60 member organizations that serve farmworkers, youth, advocates, lawyers, unions, and more. The coalition has existed since 1998 and is dedicated to creating a “bold, agile and strategic multiracial, intergenerational, social movement.” Gomez has helped FLIC advocate for specific policy proposals, like a Florida bill aimed at providing health insurance to nearly 50,000 immigrant children and in-state tuition for undocumented youth.
Policies like these matter to her personally, as well. Some of her family members are undocumented and live in constant fear of being deported. Gomez believes that politicians and leaders should spend more time on the ground actually listening to what people really need. “Policies matter to me, because at the end of the day, they impact our daily lives,” she explains. “We have families; we need to have a driver’s license to be able to go pick kids up from school, or to be able to participate at any other number of things. It’s hard because you can’t work to your full potential, or be everything that you want to be. Immigration policy is important to our dignity and inclusivity.”