Sept. 25, 2020 by David Silverberg
It was July, 2018 when Maureen Porras, an immigration attorney, went with a client to the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Miramar, Florida.
The client was a Nicaraguan immigrant father of two young children, married to an American citizen with medical conditions. As required, he periodically checked in with ICE. He had been informed that he was subject to deportation but wanted to request a humanitarian stay because of his wife’s condition, which was why Porras was with him that day.
Porras and the client met with the ICE agents, who were surprised to see an attorney there.
“I started to speak on his behalf,” she recalled to The Paradise Progressive. “They asked to take him to another room for questioning without counsel. I knew that if he went through that door alone, I would never see him again and he was going to be deported.”
Porras objected; she was going to be with him no matter what happened. Five uniformed ICE officers surrounded her. A supervisor was summoned. The atmosphere was grim and the officers demanding. At that time ICE was reputed to have physically abused attorneys.
But Porras persisted. “I refused to leave,” she recalled. “I caused a real scene. I felt the fear and the intimidation that immigrants are now facing. I knew that I had to stand up for my client. If I, as an attorney, couldn’t stand up for them, then who would? That experience, where you’re vulnerable, really made it clear that we need a change.”
Ultimately, they both left the ICE office together. Porras won a motion to reopen his case and it’s currently active before the immigration court—with a final hearing scheduled for 2022.
Porras called the incident “one of the most defining moments of my life.” It inspired her to run for the Florida House in the 105th District—to make the changes she says are needed.
The 105th District
The 105th stretches almost completely across the southern part of Florida. If it was mapped demographically, it would look like a barbell: population centers in the west (Naples Manor, Golden Gate and Lely Resort) then a long stretch of Everglades and population centers in the east (Miramar, Doral, Sweetwater and The Hammocks). It includes pieces of Collier, Miami Dade and just a bit of Broward counties and is mostly bounded on the north by the Alligator Alley portion of Interstate 75.
Based on the 2010 Census, the population of 157,369 was mostly Hispanic (69 percent) with a median age of 35 years and split evenly between men and women.
For the last two years, the 105th has been represented in Tallahassee by Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Republican who is now running for state Senate in the 35th Senate District.
Running against Porras is David Borrero, who describes himself as a “conservative Republican,” and serves as a commissioner of the city of Sweetwater.
Porras and her husband Caleb Johnston, a Florida state’s attorney, live in Doral on the east side of the district. While it’s a long trip from one end of the 105th to the other, Porras travels it at least twice a week to meet with voters and political groups.
“We’ve put in a lot of work in Collier County,” she says.
An American journey
Porras, who will be 32 years old on Oct. 23, was born in Managua, Nicaragua. Her mother left for the United States when Porras was 7 months old. Maureen followed when she was 7 years old. She received her US citizenship in 2008.
She attended public schools, which she says gave her a great appreciation for public education and made her a strong supporter of the institution. Indeed, she lists support for public education as a top issue.
“We have to support funding for public education and stop diverting money into charter schools,” she says. “My opponent proposes expanding charter schools.”
She graduated from Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor degree in political science in 2010, graduating cum laude. She then earned her Juris Doctor degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law in 2014 and passed the Florida Bar the same year. While in law school, she worked in the Human and Immigrant Rights Clinic. There, she represented clients before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency and the Immigration Court. She was also president of the Immigration Law Society.
It was her immigration work that inspired her run for office. “I’m running to bring a voice to issues and people who are often neglected and forgotten,” she says.
Her platform could be characterized as mainstream progressive. On her website she lists support for public education, criminal justice reform, environmental protection, reproductive rights and immigrant protection as her top issues in that order.
In Tallahassee she says she’ll work to fix the broken unemployment benefits system.
When it comes to dealing with coronavirus, Porras says she would have supported calling a special session, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) opposed. She favors help to small businesses hurt by the pandemic and “making sure that loans and funds are spread equally across the state – not just in the governor’s backyard.” She characterizes DeSantis’ performance as “poor” given his lack of transparency in reporting COVID-19 infection rates, his failure to enforce public safety measures like mask wearing and social distancing and his early dismissal of the dangers of the virus.
As Porras campaigns around the district, she says she’s finding that her Nicaraguan origins are a considerable advantage. Sweetwater has the highest population of Nicaraguan-Americans in the country. “I’m making inroads with the Nicaraguan community,” she says. “I believe I would be the first Democratic Nicaraguan-American official elected to office.”
But she’s reaching out across the board, well beyond her ethnic community. “Most of the registered voters are independents. I’m not just reaching out to registered Republicans and Democrats; I’m reaching out to independents. You really do have to persuade them and I’m making progress.”
And she adds: “We have a good chance to win here.”
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg