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What gave rise to IMPAC?

An immigrant’s sad story inspires businessman to raise funds to defend the undocumented

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Businessman Mike Fernández, founder of IMPAC Fund, recalls the incident that spurred him to found the pro-immigrant organization during the November Summit, a Bipartisan Conversation on Immigration Reform, held last November on the University of Miami campus.

Photographer: ROCIO GRANADOS | LVC

Businessman Mike Fernández, founder of IMPAC Fund, recalls the incident that spurred him to found the pro-immigrant organization during the November Summit, a Bipartisan Conversation on Immigration Reform, held last November on the University of Miami campus.

MIAMI | It was an accident. But as Mike Fernandez says: “Sometimes in your life something makes you up and do something.”

On Sept. 22, 2016, in a Coral Gables neighborhood, two children were playing, riding their bicycles around in circles. At the same time, a vehicle approached, coming out of a nearby construction zone. But a fence prevented the driver from seeing the children. When one of them went to cross the street, “he is not hit by the car. He hits the car,” recalled Fernández, who witnessed the accident.

The driver, a man, could have run off. But he didn’t. The child was unconscious. Fernández called 911 and waited for the police, to tell them what had happened.

“It was not his fault. He was driving probably 25 miles an hour, the speed limit in the neighborhood is 30. I know because it is my house, over there. It’s not his fault,” Fernández told the police.

Days later, he found out that the man had been detained. He was undocumented and had no driver’s license. “I felt bad, but not bad enough to do something about it,” Fernández said.

A week later, overwhelmed by a feeling that what happened to the man was an injustice, Fernández found out where he lived and went to his house in Florida City. It was empty. The neighbors told him the man had seven children, all of them U.S. born.

“The neighbors told me that he was a great dad, a single dad. Those children never missed anything that it is needed for a child,” he recalled.

Florida’s Department of Children and Families had taken the children and placed them in foster homes.

“They ruined the boys’ life by separating them from their father. They ruined the man’s life who probably comes to this country for the same reason that the pilgrims came to this country. They were afraid for their life,” said Fernández, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners.

“That is the one incident that pulled me into this process,” explained the founder of IMPAC Fund (Immigration Partnership and Coalition), speaking at the organization’s Summit, a Bipartisan Conversation on Immigration Reform, held at the University of Miami last November.

IMPAC Fund works to safeguard the rights of undocumented immigrants, and to make sure that families are not separated. It funds lawyers who help the undocumented gain legal status and represent them in immigration court.

Immigrants who are represented by attorneys have a five times greater probability of winning their case.

“Right now, in Miami-Dade, there are 40,000 pending immigration cases. Everyone needs a lawyer, but there are few who can afford that,” said Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami, one of two agencies that receive funding from IMPAC.

The other agency is Americans for Immigrant Justice, where IMPAC funds a program aimed at keeping families together by preventing the deportation of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are eligible for legalization but unaware of those avenues.

Both agencies also put on “Know Your Rights” presentations to advise immigrants of what to do and not to do when stopped by immigration authorities.

“Immigrants contribute greatly to our economy and without them our economy is going to suffer gravely, there is no question about that,” said Cheryl Little, executive director and founder of Americans for Immigrant Justice.

“We have an obligation to speak up. We cannot sit back and assume somebody else is going to work for us,” said Fernández, adding: “This started in terms of anger with me, anger for the lack of empathy in my community for those whose who are going through exactly the same thing, (the reason) I came to this country: a better life, more secure future for my family… As immigrants we have another obligation to speak up, and to not speak up is unforgivable for us.”

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