ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Central Florida immigrant groups are launching a new campaign next month to bring attention to their fight to become legal citizens. But the plan comes with risks.
The latest strategy is to have people here
illegally come forward and share their stories with the hope of gaining public sympathy and swaying politicians' votes.
"This one is when we went to Animal Kingdom," said Lucas Da Silva as he showed family vacation pictures to Eyewitness News anchor Jorge Estevez.
The shots depicted the perfect American family vacationing at Disney World, except Da Silva, his mother and father were not American citizens when they took that trip in 2001. In fact, his younger sister is the only one who was born in this country. Da Silva came when he was just a year old when his parents came on a tourist visa from Brazil.
"I always look back at this one and remember the good times we had," said Da Silva as he pointed to another picture.
But the family's good times would soon end.
Authorities deported Lucas's father back to Brazil
four years ago, after his visa expired. Then the unthinkable happened.
"My dad was hospitalized for blood clot on his leg. He passed away on the operating table," said Da Silva.
Da Silva is also undocumented and made the difficult choice not to go to the funeral. He was afraid he wouldn't be able to get back into the
country he now calls home.
"We hadn't seen our dad in three years. I couldn't even bury my father," said Da Silva.
So that has led Da Silva to join the push for a new strategy to have undocumented
immigrants share their stories here in Central Florida.
Pastor Wesley Porto, who works with the group PICO, People in Communities Organizing, hopes the stories will help influence the vote in Washington for a Campaign to Citizenship.
"We are part of the society, we are gaining voice, that is why people are more decided to go forward and tell their stories," said Porto.
It is a risk Da Silva said he is willing to take.
"I would be doing an injustice to my father. I would be dong an injustice to 11 million aspiring Americans if I didn't share that story, if I didn't share that pain," said Da Silva.
The first meeting will be in March and serve as a seminar to teach volunteers how to share their stories with families in their own
Central Florida communities, but also with their politicians, who play the ultimate role in the immigration fight.