Three years ago, Maria Rodriguez stood in the rotunda of the Florida state Capitol crying tears of relief after the state Senate effectively killed a harsh immigration bill. Modeled on Arizona's controversial "show me your papers" law, the legislation was a top priority for Republican Gov. Rick Scott. And even though immigration advocates ultimately won the day when the Senate halted progress on the measure, it was too close a call.
Rodriguez's organization, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, spent most of its resources that year fighting the tough legislation. In preceding years, her group had beaten back similar ordinances in Avon County and the city of Palm Bay. They were constantly on the defensive, always scrambling simply to stop punitive measures, such as efforts to require deportation proceedings for nonviolent illegal immigrant offenders.
And then, improbably, the narrative flipped. Last month, Rodriguez stood in the same spot in the Capitol rotunda, cheering the Florida Legislature's passage of a bill to give in-state tuition rates to the state's undocumented high school graduates. Republican state leaders had shepherded the legislation, and Scott made it clear he intended to sign it into law. "It was just a really remarkable change," Rodriguez says of that moment. In 2011, immigrant advocates were lined up against the governor. "This time, the governor came out to be there with us."