The upcoming presidential election is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Even if you don’t enjoy politics, this is a hot topic that’s almost impossible to ignore. But this may be eclipsing down-ballot candidates who are just as important to the change so many crave. Now is the time for everyone (you too!) to learn as much as possible about local and state elections. Elections are more than just voting for the next president, they are what dictates how comfortable you can feel in your city and state. This is why political candidates such as Maureen Porras are urging people to pay attention now more than ever.
Maureen Porras is a Nicaraguan-born South Floridian immigration attorney whose soul is intertwined with her community and the dedication she has for it. Currently, she is running for State Representative for Florida’s District 105 — a district that owes its growth to immigrants.
The bitter aftertaste of the first half of 2020 has left many people wanting change and with reason. Many living in the Sunshine State, which is also now sadly known as the epicenter of COVID-19, are worried. Their current leaders are making questionable decisions and Porras is prepared to fight against them with whatever it takes. In fact, she’s been on the verge of being arrested while defending a client who was being unlawfully detained. She sees her mission as protecting vulnerable populations and there’s no way anyone can deter her from that.
To further understand her drive, BELatina spoke to Porras. The following are her thoughts on her community and what she hopes to accomplish.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a proud graduate of the public school system. I graduated from Florida International University in 2010 with a BA in Political Science. Then, I graduated from Florida Coastal School of Law in 2014 where I received my JD. I’ve been a licensed attorney in Florida since 2014 and have been providing immigration legal services for about 11 years. At the moment, I am the managing attorney and director of immigration legal services at a nonprofit called Church World Service where we provide domestic immigration and refugee services. I have been managing it for about 4 years.
What made you want to run for the State Representative office?
The reality is that I’ve dedicated my entire career to representing immigrants. Immigrants are vital and I know that. Yet, this isn’t being prioritized by the current State Representative in the district I’m hoping to win. I was appalled when I learned that they voted with the Republican majority to allow ICE to work with our law enforcement officers to detain people. I think that really was a betrayal to our immigrant community considering South Florida (and well, the United States) has been shaped by immigrants.
It’s also been an extremely challenging four years for immigrants and immigration attorneys to deal with our current administration. There has been a lot of harmful policies that our current administration adopted that made it impossible to defend individuals against human rights violations and due process violations. I’m continuously fighting hard for the rights of my community, I understand that there’s more that needs to be done.
The truth is that if we really want change, we need to do it from the inside. We need better legislators and federal laws. Even though I’m not running at a federal level, we have a lot to do at the state level. Of course, we need protections not just for immigrants, but for families and workers. I’m hoping to make a difference and continue serving my community through Florida’s legislature.
What impassions you?
My platform focuses on making sure we improve and properly fund our public school system. As a graduate of the public school system, I want to make sure we have quality education for every child and that every child is given the same opportunities I had to get ahead in life. I want to ensure that children’s gender, socio-economic status, or race are never factors that work against their success. This needs to be at the top of the list for everyone.
We can do that by strengthening our public education system and, of course, the staff. Not just the teachers, but everyone involved in providing education to children. I’m also focusing on making sure that we are strengthening our environmental laws. Water quality issues are actually very big in my district. Aside from that, I’m passionate about reforming our criminal justice system.
What challenges have you faced while running?
Well, one of the main challenges is getting residents to focus on down-ballot candidates. I know that we have a very important presidential election this year and everyone is eager to participate. However, people should also look at their local and state races because they can be pivotal to their livelihood. To get on top of things, I urge voters and residents to learn about candidates for their state legislature and for the local offices so that they can make the right choices for their communities.
It’s no secret that the current federal administration doesn’t seem to have the best interest of immigrants. Do you feel that discrimination towards immigrants has increased in your community in recent years due to this?
Yes. I would definitely say that the attacks towards immigrants are happening more often. Being an immigration lawyer, I have seen attacks increased not just from the federal government and the administration, but also at the local level. Unfortunately, this behavior is being perpetrated by our local elected officials as well. This has encouraged our elected officials in South Florida to turn their backs on immigrants, which is not good for our economy, community, or conscience for that matter. There are so many immigrants in my community and many of them are married or have children that are U.S. citizens. A lot of them are the sole financial contributors to their families. If they are detained or attacked, that family gets hurt and feels that effect immediately.
What are your thoughts on Florida’s response to the pandemic and what would you suggest be done instead?
Florida’s response to the pandemic has been a complete failure. The lack of competent leadership, especially by Governor DeSantis, has led to a high number of daily infections, including the highest number of infections recorded in one day in the entire country. Despite the alarming numbers, our governor wants to reopen schools and refuses to issue a state-wide mask order. We need to keep schools closed and continue distance learning. We must also issue a state-wide mask order to lower the spread of COVID-19 and to protect our most vulnerable.
What makes you equipped for this role you’re after?
I believe that my experience and background will help me succeed in the legislature. I’ve consistently represented and defended families and vulnerable populations throughout my life. This is not something that I’ve just started doing. I have a proven track record that shows my contribution to the community, something that not everyone can say.
Besides, not only am I prepared to fight for what’s in the best interest of the community but I’m also a coalition builder. Part of my role is to reach out to different organizations and build coalitions so that we can help our community and provide services. I’m ready to continue fighting for this district, or anyone really, by reaching across the aisle and effectively coming up with solutions that will work. My rigorous training in law will, without a doubt, help me pass policies that will be beneficial to everyone.
Any final words for BELatina News readers?
Your vote counts. You must believe that we have the power to change anything. I know not a lot of people in the Latin community can vote, but they must have family members or friends that can. You can influence the outcome of this election. I urge you to make sure that your families and neighbors are getting ready to vote. If you can vote, then get ready, too! Getting everyone involved is how we create change. Also, we need to start electing leaders with a proven record of serving their community. Look for a candidate’s credibility by checking what they’ve been doing in the past years and how they’ve dedicated their life and time. So, I encourage everyone to vote and elect leaders that will truly represent you well. We can do this together.