LaBELLE — A South Florida resident who’s a legal immigrant from Costa Rica started a little jog for a cause in the aid of illegal immigrants last weekend at Miami’s Freedom Tower. His ultimate destination: the Mexican border with the United States, around 1,200 miles away.
Solo, an up-and-coming Latino hip-hop musical artist whose parents brought him here at age 8 — legally emigrating to the U.S. from their native Central American country — was running through the south Lake Okeechobee region along U.S. 27 and State Road 80 through Clewiston and LaBelle on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 25-26. He’s on a mission along with a supporter, U.S. Marine veteran Robert Montgomery of Fort Myers, to draw attention to their cause for “positive change in the American system.”
His real name is Juan Marcos Soto, and he’s written pro-immigration anthems called “No Walls No War” and “Dear Mister President,” in an attempt to draw attention to the true reasons why people have risked their lives to get across the southern U.S. border, and then risked discrimination, harassment, blockades in the law and even arrest and deportation to stay and work here.
“I think I have a reasonable solution for an immigration reformation, if we can just get the people to hear it!” says Mr. Soto. He and Mr. Montgomery have started a not-for-profit organization called TodoGucci.org that intends to help immigrants with grants for education, work permits and visas, “creating opportunities in the U.S. for those less fortunate.”
It’s named after a song, and he said that when the song “TodoGucci” was first written, it meant “everything is good” and wasn’t intended or directed toward any issues involving immigration. However, Solo says, the say he recorded the song, he talked with a dear 10-year friend of his who’d been arrested for not having a driver’s license and was facing possible deportation. The man works 12 hours a day, six days a week, Solo knows, has American daughters and owns three paid-off cars, yet cannot legally drive or work in this country. Told he was already in the final stages of the deportation process, Mr. Soto redid the song to make it “TodoGucci, No Walls No War.”
Around the same time, last autumn, an immigrant caravan headed out of Honduras through Mexico to get to the U.S. border and seek asylum here, setting off presidential declarations of a “crisis” and 12,000 troops being sent to the region. Solo says that, having gotten to know many immigrants without legal status in South Florida, he was aware of their reasons for coming, their struggles and their desires to both conform to their adopted land and its laws but also work hard to make their own communities better. He decided he wanted to raise awareness among Americans that a reformation of the nation’s immigration processes are urgently needed.
Solo says he and Mr. Montgomery decided the best way to do so was “to attempt the sacrifice of a cross-country trip and as a symbol of the risk and sacrifice that many immigrants and refugees make every day with the intention of having a better life.”
He says they have financed the whole endeavor themselves thus far, without any third-party sponsorships, “we are not associated with any political party and not interested in doing so.” They established the website along with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts under the @runwithsolo handle and use a large hashtag, #dearmisterpresident, painted on the black Mercedes Sprinter RV that they’re using for sleeping and eating along their journey that will take many weeks. Mr. Soto says that tune is “a direct message to the president seeking a mutual solution to the crisis.”
He wants to make fellow U.S. citizens aware of the severe problems their noncitizen fellow humans are facing because of federal policies. “Many of these people are living their everyday life in fear of deportation with very little hope to build a legitimate life in America,” said Mr. Soto.
He and Mr. Montgomery hope to recruit as many supporters as they can along the way for their nonprofit, TodoGucci.org, which will provide a number of services for undocumented immigrants in need:
• Help with expenses, including but not limited to standard and affordable education and aid with legal documentation, as well as links to community resources for economic relief.
• Legal aid to asylum-seekers who may have the right to relief under some humanitarian bases, including a credible fear of oppression or inability to obtain protection from their country of origin.
• Educational aids to help illegal immigrants obtain the needed skills and knowledge to remain in the U.S.
• Legal assistance with renewals under the Deferred Action for Childdhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy and attaining eligibility for work permits.
• Legal information and referral services for lone children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
• Immigration Accompaniment, a way of providing solidarity to immigrants facing deportation or who are being processed by immigration officials through the help of allied individuals, organizations and religious congregations — even by serving as witnesses in places where injustices are being done.
“This is only a small portion of what we can do. Our plan is to … try to spread a positive message to the American people and its youth,” Mr. Soto said. Their mission, he said, “was born from compassion for the human race and a need. We believe that we need to raise awareness with not only the youth in our Latino communities but among African-Americans and all the other cultures and ethnic groups that make up the great United States of America.
“With the immigration crisis and the immigrant caravan heading out of Honduras to the U.S.-Mexican border, the time to raise awareness in America is now!” he said.
Solo and Mr. Montgomery say they are open to attorney and business partnerships to help facilitate work permits for undocumented immigrants, and to working with colleges, universities and work programs that can help set up scholarships and financial assistance through sponsorships or donations.
Contact TodoGucci by calling Mr. Soto at 239-478-8459, visit their website or write to TodoGucci, 2251 Grand Ave., Fort Myers, FL 33901.