In response to the recent passage of an anti-immigrant bill in Florida, immigrant rights activists have planned a number of protests in Chicago for this weekend, to coincide with two NASCAR street races being held in the city.
The demonstrations are one of many that have sprung up in the wake of Florida’s SB1718, which was signed into law by Republican governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis on May 10 and goes into effect on Saturday, July 1. The law will penalize anyone who provides transportation to an undocumented immigrant from outside the state, invalidate the out-of-state driver’s licenses granted to undocumented immigrants, require employers with 25 employees or more to use E-Verify to determine work eligibility based on immigration status, and require hospitals to check a patient’s immigration status before providing health care.
The impact of the law has caused thousands of undocumented and mixed-status families to flee, creating extensive economic uncertainty in the process—and leading a few Republican legislators to plead for migrants to return to the state.
Persistent pressure in Florida has also resulted in labor stoppages that compound the economic effects felt all over the Sunshine State. Storefronts and various businesses have closed their doors during protest days.
Across the country, in San Diego, a caravan left San Diego on June 23 and is scheduled to arrive in Tallahassee, Florida on June 30 with the goal of bringing greater attention to the issue and pushing for immigration reform.
“We have always contributed to the economy in the United States, especially during COVID,” said Fernando “TuCo” Fuentes, one of the organizers of the planned protest in Chicago. “We were called to continue working and we did. All we ask for is equal treatment for the sacrifices we’ve made. We can’t let people forget about us. I’ve been in this country for 18 years and have worked and paid taxes. I have a responsibility to take care of my family. I feel like I deserve legal status. I will not be silent anymore. I can’t be.”
Fuentes hopes that NASCAR’s first-of-its-kind Grant Park 220 on Sunday —along with the NASCAR Xfinity Series race in the city on Saturday— will raise the profile of protests and therefore shed an ever brighter light on the issue of immigrant rights and the need for immigration reform.
“They will see us whether they like it or not,” he said.
Fuentes, who typically organizes protests outside of Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago, also hopes the protests will force Durbin to sit down with immigrant rights groups.
“We normally protest at the Federal Plaza because that’s where Sen. Dick Durbin’s office is,” he explained. “We do it to bring his attention to immigration reform and express the sentiment about what’s happening to people without legal status. I want people to see if we dedicate ourselves we can succeed. We’ve been waiting for decades for reform. We can’t wait another four decades with so much uncertainty.”
“I may not be a citizen, and I may not be able to vote, but I live here, and Dick Durbin represents me,” Fuentes continued. “Everything we do comes out of our families’ pockets, we don’t receive funding. We do it because we have a conviction to see justice.”