“The fear is very real”: Undocumented immigrants describe life in the shadow of Florida

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In the shade and shadow of the palm trees in the Sunshine State, Hector Anguiano and Ana Gonzalez toil in constant fear.

Crossing the southern border between Mexico and the United States isn’t easy today, and it wasn’t easy 22 years ago when the couple and three young children embarked on the treacherous trek.

“It was very scary,” Anguiano recalls. “My wife had two children. I also had one with me. We were thirsty and hungry. But we were hungrier to come to the United States.”

Anguiano and Gonzalez spoke to 8 On Your Side in Spanish with the translation help of their immigration attorney Ernesto Buitrago.

“I broke a law entering the United States,” Anguiano said. “I have to live with that. But I would never break any law in the United States. I’m trying to live properly in this country.”

After the family moved to Arizona, they settled in California: Anguiano worked in construction, Gonzalez in a restaurant. But as construction slowed, Anguiano visited his colleagues in Florida and saw the blessings of the construction industry. Shortly thereafter, he moved to Tampa and his family joined him.

But after the expiration of Title 42 and the asylum situation at the border, Anguiano sees no improvement in the decades since he crossed the border.

“If it was difficult before, it’s worse now,” Anguiano explained. “It goes from punishing an immigrant to criminalizing the immigrant.”

But the border – now more than 1,600 kilometers away by car – is currently the least of the family’s worries.

“If you see a police officer behind you or to the side on the street,” Ana Gonzalez said through her translator. “The fear is very real.”

Gonzalez would like to visit her daughter in California or her parents in Mexico. But since there are no documents in her name, that’s out of the question.

“They are currently ill and she can’t even visit them,” Ernesto Buitrago said on her behalf.

“I’d like to hug her again,” Gonzalez said through tears.

In addition, new laws in Florida requiring companies to verify the citizenship of their employees are putting both parents out of work.

“We can’t really work anymore,” Anguiano said. “Our employers are asking for certain documents because of this new law that they didn’t ask for before.”

Supporters of the new laws say it will force the White House to act and keep Florida residents safe.

“Until the states hit back, which we’re doing now,” said State Senator Blaise Ingoglia. “The federal government will never act. We try to force them to act.”

In passing the law, Florida is following the steps of the federal government and its contractors. It also uses E-Verify to verify a worker’s citizenship.

“Look, we can’t just stand by and do nothing,” MP Berny Jacques said. “There are things the state can do to mitigate the problems.”

While the parents’ road to citizenship is still a long way off, the two have a daughter who will soon be getting her green card and grandchildren who will have US passports.

“That’s the price you pay when you come to the United States,” Gonzalez said.

And by this calculation, living in fear is worth it.

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