Hillsborough back to school event held for Cuban immigrants with 20,000 expected in classrooms this year

A record number of Cubans are leaving their country because of poverty and the political situation there. The Hillsborough County school district is planning for as many as 20,000 Cuban families to come to Tampa. 

The school district opened a temporary Immigration School Registration and Welcome Center at the Adult Education Center at Leto High School, at 7010 N. Manhattan Avenue in Tampa on Monday. The center will operate at that location through Wednesday. 

Daniella Rodriguez, 17, and her family visited the center Monday. She and her mother just arrived in Tampa, and she’ll start her junior year at Plant High this week. She already has an idea of what she would like to do for a career. 

"I want to study something that has to do with children, like special education," she said in Spanish. 

She’s lucky because she has family members who immigrated to Tampa years ago. They’re happy to help. 

"If you have the opportunity to help your family, I think I owe it to them, just like my uncle did for us when he got us out in the Freedom Flights of 1966," said George Lorenzo, Daniella’s uncle. "That’s what we try to do for our family and for the immigrant community."

It took Daniella and her mother eight years to get the visas that grant them permanent resident status. Immigration experts said thousands of Cubans are crossing the Mexican border illegally, second only to Mexicans among those being detained. 

Daniella’s family members are happy they came legally, but it was long and arduous. 

"It’s unfortunate, but immigration in our country is more about politics than how to fix the issue," said Lorenzo, who is a partner in a Tampa law practice.

Lorenzo hopes both sides will be able to come together and find a solution to the problem.

Daniella said she wants to visit the Statue of Liberty. In Cuba, she expected to be told what job she should prepare for. In America, it’s different. 

"You can realize your dreams," she said.