Darren Soto

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Darren Soto


Darren Soto was an Orlando based Florida state senator. He won Florida Congressional District 9 in 2016.

Background

Soto was born in Ringwood, New Jersey to a Puerto Rican father, O. Lou Soto, and an Italian-American mother, Jean Soto. From 1998 to 2001, he worked for Prudential Insurance in finance while he attended college. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rutgers University in 2000, a Juris Doctor from George Washington University in 2004, and opened his law practice the following year.

Soto has a bachelor's degree in Economics, and attended Law School at George Washington University. Soto is a commercial and civil rights attorney proudly practicing law in Central Florida. He is ardent defender of civil rights and is committed to rendering legal services pro bono to the community. In 2006, he was named class counsel in the federal class action brought on behalf of Hispanic voters against the City of Kissimmee in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Soto is a former member of the Civil Service Board for the City of Orlando, served as the Treasurer of the Orange County Democrats and the Vice President of Communications for the Orange County Young Democrats (YD's). He was also the YD Co-Host for their Speak Easy events that provide a monthly forum for local and state leaders to speak to young voters.

Jobs for America Task Force

September 13, 2017 Press Release Washington, D.C. – Today, Congressman Darren Soto announced that he will serve in a leadership role in the House Democratic Caucus Jobs for America Task Force, a unified effort from the House Democratic Caucus to craft a real legislative agenda that will benefit hardworking Americans and middle-class families. The congressman will serve as co-chair for the New Economy Task Force, along with Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).

“In developing legislation to strengthen our economy, we need to think long-term –beyond the next election cycle and beyond the present. Our priority must be on preparing the American workforce for the jobs of the 21st century. That’s why I’m proud to join my colleagues in the New Economy Task Force. We’ll be working together on legislative solutions to create new jobs and boost our local economies, while keeping America a strong competitive market in a technologically advanced world,” stated Congressman Darren Soto.[1]

FLIC support

Circa 2012: The Florida Immigrant Coalition supports Sen. Soto’s attempt to pass an amendment questioning Bondi’s use of resources in a hurtful lawsuit

Miami, FL – Today, Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando) made a surprising and courageous attempt in the Florida Legislature to stop Attorney General Pam Bondi’s outrageous use of Florida’s taxpayer dollars to pay for a lawsuit against President Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration.

According to Francesca Menes, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the Florida Immigrant Coalition:

“Attorney General Pam Bondi is not only being irresponsible in the use of our resources in a lawsuit that could bring many benefits to our state, but she is also ignoring the voices of over 1,000 Floridians who have been asking her for months to withdraw Florida’s name from this lawsuit through an online petition.
We fully support Senator Soto’s amendment. Not only because someone had to call her out on her record for misusing our state’s resources against Florida’s diverse and vulnerable communities, but because of the positive impact this Executive Action would have in our state.
Instead of using our resources to shoot ourselves in the foot and continue paying for costly and cruel detentions and deportations that separate families, we want to remind AG Bondi that Florida could increase its tax revenues by $102 million over 5 years if DAPA and DACA are implemented.[2]

FLIC rally in Orlando

With DACA recipients pleading, sometimes in tears, for the right to stay in the United States where they grew up, a coalition of pro-immigration groups and Democratic lawmakers gathered on Orlando City Hall’s front steps September 2017 to denounce President Donald Trump‘s phased-out repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

At the same time, the groups and the young, undocumented immigrants called for the widespread immigration reform that Trump demanded Congress pursue with the end of DACA in sight.

They reacted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions‘ announcement that the White House was ending enrollments in DACA immediately and those currently enrolled would have six months, with the challenge that Congress would pass immigration reform in that period.

While Sessions and Trump essentially set the table for full immigration reform, those gathered in Orlando offered no trust offered for them or their intentions.

“Since the administration came into office, the immigration rhetoric has been hateful. It has been divisive. And we don’t stand for it,” said Isabel Sousa-Rodriguez, lead organizer and membership coordinator for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

The gathering at Orlando City Hall, organized by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, included scores of representatives of immigration groups, labor unions, Hispanic groups, CAIR - Florida, progressive groups, and Democratic state Sens. Victor Torres and Linda Stewart of Orlando, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando, and a representative of U.S. Rep. Darren Soto.[3]

SDS support

Mariana Castro had everything she needed to get into the University of Florida: a 4.1 weighted GPA, an International Baccalaureate diploma from Celebration High School in Osceola County and a Bright Futures scholarship.

What the Peruvian native didn’t have was status as a legal resident of the U.S. because her mother brought her into the country illegally when she was a child. She applied for deferred action status with the Department of Homeland Security, which enabled her to get a work permit, a driver’s license and a Social Security card.

But it did not help her qualify for in-state tuition at UF. Because of her unauthorized status, Castro must pay an out-of-state tuition rate that is nearly five times higher than the in-state rate of $6,270 a year. She also was denied her Bright Futures scholarship money, which would have paid for half of that in-state tuition.

UF President Bernie Machen has stated his support for the DREAM Act and granting tuition waivers to students whose parents bring them to the country illegally through no fault of their own and work hard to succeed in school.

But administrators don’t believe the law as it stands allows them to waive out-of-state tuition.

An opinion UF received from outside counsel Foley & Lardner of Miami said the university would be in violation of “well-established federal law” if it were to grant tuition waivers or other tuition benefits to students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Unfortunately, it is not something we can do even if we want to,” said Janine Sikes, associate vice president for media relations and public affairs at UF.

“We are all about access and this is a small change we can make to provide access to more qualified students right here in our community,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said in a news release in June.

The issue could be cleared up if the Florida Legislature were to pass a law allowing for in-state rates or tuition waivers for unauthorized students.

Jeremiah Tattersall, an organizer with Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said Republican State Rep. Weatherall didn’t think the Florida Legislature would stand in UF’s way if it wanted to grant tuition equity to unauthorized students.

“The fact that Weatherford, one of the most influential politicians in the state, said that he wouldn’t hold it against UF if they allowed DACA students to get in-state tuition should put UF administration’s worries to ease,” Tattersall said. “He joins the UF administration, faculty, and students who are all saying that it is wrong.“

Castro and dozens of other students representing Students for a Democratic Society, Gators for Tuition Equity and CHISPAS, hope to get the UF Student Senate to pass a resolution tonight showing support for tuition equity as outlined in Senate Bill 300 sponsored by State Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee.

Liana Guerra, a founder of Gators for Tuition Equity, said 6,000 UF students have signed a petition supporting tuition equity. The resolution was written by Guerra, SDS organizer Conor Monroe and UF Senator Joselin Padron-Rasines.

Senate President Cory Yeffet said he supports the resolution.

A change in policy could affect an estimated 100 people like Castro, said Chrisley Carpio with SDS.“Now, it’s a matter of applying pressure in all the right ways, and showing there is support,” Carpio said.[4]

Jobs with Justice

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Circa 2014 "When workers and community members unite, we win! The energy was buzzing on a cool, Thursday night at the James R. Smith Neighborhood Center as Central Florida Jobs with Justice held their first Workers Rights Board Hearing. Used nationally within Jobs with Justice, the Workers Rights Board is a body of elected officials, community leaders, and faith based leaders that address issues affecting workers locally and act upon it with more immediacy than other national bodies."

Central Florida Jobs with Justice Workers Rights Board members: Gail Gardner, Representative Victor Torres, Martha Kirby, Father Roberto Morales, Julie Norris, Dr. Harry Coverston, Dr. Gabriela Rios, Representative Darren Soto, Pastor Derrick McRae, Sister Ann Kendrick.[5]

Dream Defenders

Florida state lawmakers adopted a measure to tighten oversight of privately run juvenile detention facilies, following reports of the widespread abuse of youths in custody.

The measure, introduced by state Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, delivers the first legislative victory for Dream Defenders, the "upstart Florida-based civil rights group formed in the wake of the Trayvon Martin killing".

Under the recent budget amendment, companies bidding for Florida contracts to run residential detention centers will undergo a review of their operations in other states. Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice will be required to report at least quarterly the serious incidents that occur at facilities.

Dream Defenders pressed for reforms in response to a Huffington Post report about youths beaten, sexually abused, neglected, and served unsanitary food at facilities operated by Youth Services International in Florida and other states.[6]

In December 2013 leaders of the UCF/Orlando chapter of Dream Defenders had pressured prominent Democrat in the Florida Senate, Darren Soto, to send letters to the Department of Juvenile Justice and his colleagues, requesting that the state produce all contracts, current pending bids for contracts and documentation of cases of abuse in YSI facilities.[7]

Panel

UF student organizations including CHISPAS, the Hispanic Student Association, UF Students for a Democratic Society and the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Culture have been collecting signatures before they present the petition to UF President Bernie Machen on Oct. 17 2013.

UF Student Government sponsored the UF Immigration Reform Symposium circa October 15, which featured a conversation with Sen. Darren Soto and Sen. Dwight Bullard about the importance of tuition equality for undocumented students.

Darren Soto, Dwight Bullard

“Right now, there is no policy regarding immigration or tuition equity for students,” said Liana Guerra, a 20-year-old political science and economics junior. “It’s important to start at UF with this petition, but ultimately, we want to make changes in the state legislature.”[8]

Bullard and Soto have a history of working for "immigrant rights". Soto sponsored a bill granting people with deferred action status a driver’s license, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Bullard, along with Soto as co-sponsor, has worked for the past four years to pass a bill requiring universities to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students with deferred action status. He intends to bring it back again this year.

“I believe in it,” he said. “I’m definitely excited by the idea that the wave of change is coming, and I think Florida needs to stand on the right side of history and really adopt it as a system-wide policy for all its state universities and Florida colleges.”

Bullard said the most important thing is for every person with the ability to vote to do so. He urged people to be informed, to know the names of their congressmen and to vote them out of office when they failed to represent them correctly. He said he hoped the symposium left people with a better understanding of the issue and why active participation as a voter is so crucial.[9]

New Florida Majority support

South Florida Democratic candidates who had no reason to expect victory are preparing to be sworn in to office now thanks to the votes of people whom the pollsters largely ignored: unlikely voters.

One election post-mortem from the liberal nonprofit America Votes suggests unlikely voters cast 34 percent of the early and mail-in absentee votes during this election, propelling liberal Democrats such as Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami and State Senator Maria Sachs of Boca Raton unexpectedly to the winners' circle.

An unlikely voter, says America Votes Florida director Josh Geise, is one who scores below 80 on a zero-to-100 scale of voting history, age, ethnicity, neighborhood and other factors that measure the propensity for voting. The likely voter model in use by several polling organizations uses only three elements: voting history, the voter's self-described intention to vote and his or her enthusiasm for the campaign.

The task for Democratic ground-gamers was to goad the unlikelys out of their torpor and campaigners say Republican legislators and Gov. Rick Scott made that easy with the voting law they passed in 2011.

"The (voter roll) purges, the crackdown on early voting -- all those things that were an attempt to make those voters even less likely to vote -- those things really ticked people off," says Gihan Perera, who runs the political nonprofit New Florida Majority. FNM staff and volunteers made calls and knocked on doors for Rodriguez, Sachs and other Democrats around the state.

FNM also contributed manpower and data to winning Democratic Senate candidates Dwight Bullard of Miami and Darren Soto of Orlando.[10]

Early voting campaign

Tallahassee, November 12, 2012 Representatives from the Florida New Majority, Advancement Project, Florida Immigrant Coalition, the AFL-CIO and some Democratic lawmakers announced Monday during a teleconference with reporters that they would push for an overhaul of Florida’s election system as well as a possible investigation by a an entity from outside of the state.[11]

Labor unions, Democratic lawmakers and other groups on Monday urged Florida officials to expand early-voting days and sites, among several recommendations offered in response to long lines at the polls and delays in ballot counting during last week’s election.

“This election cycle now marks 12 years of Florida being a voting disaster area,” said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a "liberal civil rights group" based in Washington, D.C.

The groups also proposed giving local election officials more discretion to select early-voting sites and more resources and voter assistance, including translators, for early voting.

Sen. Oscar Brayon, D-Miami Gardens, said he would sponsor legislation based on the recommendations, but he wasn’t optimistic about getting it through the Republican-controlled Legislature or signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

State officials also will be getting advice. Several groups including The League of Women Voters of Florida, AARP, National Congress of Black Women, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation, plan to weigh in.

Braynon joined Rep. Darren Soto, a Democratic senator-elect from Orlando, in endorsing the proposals offered Monday by the unions, the Advancement Project, Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition and St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa.

Those groups want to return to 14 days of early voting, which the Legislature reduced to eight days as part of a 2011 law. Critics say that law was aimed at suppressing voting by minorities and others who tend to favor Democrats.

“Certainly, we will be doing everything possible to set a conciliatory tone to try to make these changes,” Soto said. “In the alternative, we’ll end up back in court.”

Other options would be to seek congressional or Justice Department investigations to determine if there’s been a systematic effort to suppress voters, said Florida New Majority executive director Gihan Perera.[12]

A new law passed last year limiting early voting was a “wish list of things to do to make sure Barack Obama doesn’t get reelected,” said Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando who was elected state senator last week. The group will push for nine reforms, but if they aren’t followed, “we’ll end up back in court,” Soto said.[13]

Anti-Scott press conference

March 4, 2013 Tallahassee, FL , ahead of Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State address, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant joined by Senators Darren Soto and Dwight Bullard along with Representatives Mark Pafford and Karen Castor Dentel gathered outside of the Governor’s office to discuss his record of putting big corporations and special interests ahead of Florida's middle class families. The press conference followed the release of a memo today outlining the Governor's State of Denial about his failed record.[14]

Fracking ban

Two Florida state senators introduced legislation December 2014 to ban fracking in their state, citing concerns about environmental impact and potential damage to water supplies.

State Senators Darren Soto (D) and Dwight Bullard (D) filed a bill on Tuesday that, if adopted, would prohibit hydraulic fracturing in Florida. In a press release announcing the legislation, the senators said that Florida’s natural beauty, major tourism industry, and underground aquifers would be at risk if fracking becomes common in Florida.

“The key is this: there shouldn’t be any fracking in Florida,” Soto told Florida’s WGCU. “We are a beautiful state that has so much to lose from fracking and so little to gain from a few small areas that it’s actually just disgraceful that we would allow it here.”[15]

Minimum wage bill

Kissimmee Democratic Senator Darren Soto cosponsored a bill with Miami Democratic Senator Dwight Bullard in August 2015 that would raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. Minimum wage now in Florida is a little more than $8 dollars an hour now and Soto says getting the state’s Republican legislature to bump that up to $15 will be tough.[16]

Sharing Ramadan in South Florida

According to Rummi Khan, the Muslim Observer, August 12, 2013;

Sharing Ramadan Orlando was co-hosted with the American Muslim Community Center and we were pleased to have both Senator David Simmons and Senator Darren Soto join us along with many community and interfaith leaders of all backgrounds! In Tampa we were pleased to have the City of Tampa City Council join us to learn more about Ramadan and meet with community leaders.

Caucus endorsements

State Sen. Darren Soto announced the endorsements of Democratic caucus leaders representing Hispanic, Caribbean and Muslim caucuses in his bid to be elected to Congress in the Orlando-based Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

Soto’s campaign announced Tuesday he had received endorsements from Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida President Vivian Rodriguez, Democratic Caribbean Caucus-Orlando Branch Vice Chairman Karen Green and American Muslim Democratic Caucus of Osceola President Khorshed Hossain.

The endorsements come as Soto, and Orlando Democrat, continues to push his campaign to become the first member of Congress of Puerto Rican descent from Florida, and the first Hispanic congressman representing Central Florida.

“Darren Soto has been a strong voice for our rights and for all diverse cultures throughout his career. As a fellow Caribbean community citizen, I can attest to Darren’s commitment to fight for the issues that matter to working families while serving as a state legislator,” Green stated in a news release issued by Soto’s campaign. “He has advocated in favor of immigrants, students, women, seniors and our environment and has a record to prove it.”

“I have known Darren Soto for many years as a humble public servant and a friend,” Hossain stated in the release. “He has always stood on the side of justice and he is a fighter that gets things done. Leadership and experience, when so much is at stake, matters.”

Rodriguez, also a leader in the LGBT community, highlighted Soto’s work to protect women and Hispanics, like passing legislation doubling the statute of limitations for rape and sexual assault cases, protecting marriage equality and for supporting a law to bring more education opportunities to DREAMers.

“State Sen. Darren Soto has been a proven, experienced leader in State Senate District 14, serving a large portion of the constituency living in Congressional District 9 for more than a decade,” she stated. “He is a champion in fighting for the rights of women, LGBT equality, Latinos, veterans, the disabled, and all Americans. He is the right choice.”[17]

Congressional Progressive Caucus

Darren Soto joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus, circa November 2017.

National Nurses United endorsement

National Nurses United 2018 endorsements in Florida included Governor - Andrew Gillum, U.S. House of Representatives, FL-09 – Darren Soto.

Opposing Muslim "travel ban"

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Congressman Darren Soto was in Kissimmee April 13, 2017, to host a town hall with members of the Muslim community to address concerns over Islamophobia and the recent travel bans being promoted by President Donald Trump involving mostly Muslim countries.

The program included Muslim leaders from all areas of the community, whose main concerns were how the controversial travel ban effected not only Muslims from the Middle East but those here in the United States of different ethnicities, who have been American Citizens for most, if not all of their lives.

“This kind of rhetoric and hate is what resonates and gives people the green light for bigotry.” said Rasha Mubarak, Regional Director of CAIR - Florida, who believed the Trump administration was wrong for tying the ban to national security “Islamophobia is not just about Muslims but the racism that has existed in this country for a very long time.”

Not all of the speakers on the program were completely opposed to White House policies. Dr. Zaid Fadhli voiced approval of Trump’s decision to retaliate with a military strike following the Syrian chemical weapons attack last week and believed eliminating Dictator Bashar al-Assad was an important step to eliminating ISIS. Zaid would ask Soto to work across the aisle on the matter.

Soto himself recently returned from a trip to Iraq, where he got to witness the battle against terrorism first hand.

“What I saw was Americans working with Muslims and soldiers of every faith working hand in hand to fight ISIS and liberate Iraq. I saw our United States committed to helping with airstrikes and medivacs.”

Imam Abdul Patel shared the podium with Soto to end the formal program with a positive message calling for unity among all Floridians and Americans.

“As citizens, we are all in one family.” Patel said “We have to protect each other. Love each other. Support each other and engage our self in this community.”[18]

Message of support

Representatives from CAIR - Florida announced late January 2017, that they were filing a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump, in response to his executive orders barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country over the weekend.

The lawsuit is filed from 20 plaintiffs, including CAIR - Florida Chief Executive Director Hassan Shibly and other activists, lawyers and representatives from civil rights organizations, and it claims Trump’s orders were unconstitutional against both the First and Fifth amendments.

In Orlando, Rasha Mubarak with CAIR called the orders “discriminatory, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim,” and decried them for trying to “criminalize groups of people in an attempt to galvanize the American people.

Speakers recounted both personal stories and tales of helping people at the Orlando International Airport last weekend during the confusion immediately following the ban. Ida Eskamani, an aide to Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, said her own grandmother, who is 84 years old, has now been prohibited from entering the United States.

Alex Barrio, District Director for Sen. Darren Soto, recalled an Iranian UCF student going for a PhD who has been barred from returning due to the executive order.

Other speakers, like Isabel Vinent Grimany with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, blasted the United States’ foreign policy even before Trump.[19]

Welcoming Muslim comunity

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According to Vivian Rodriguez, 5 May 2017‏;

Congressman Darren Soto welcomes the Muslim community to the Congressional District 9 office. @RepDarrenSoto @izamontalvonews @FlaDems @HRC

On CAIR

“CAIR’s efforts, especially after the Pulse Massacre, to dismantle Islamophobic rhetoric, mobilize the American Muslim community, [. . .] played an instrumental role in uniting Orlando in such a crucial time.”

Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) (October 2017).

Radical staffer

Liana Guerra, Scheduler and Executive Assistant, U.S Representative Darren Soto, since January 2017.

Polk County Progressives

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In 2017 Darren Soto was a member of the Polk County Progressives public FB group alongside Lisa Murano and Scott Shoup. Added by staffer Karen Cooper Welzel.

Medicare For All Congressional Caucus founders

In August 2018 Medicare For All Congressional Caucus founding members included Representative Darren Soto.

Senior staff

Appointed January 2017;

Other staff, past and present

References

  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. Florida Politics, Pro-DACA rally in Orlando seeks full immigration reform SCOTT POWERS September 5, 2017
  4. [http://www.gainesville.com/news/20131111/state-schools-differ-on-in-state-tuition-for-children-of-unauthorized-immigrants State schools differ on in-state tuition for children of unauthorized immigrants Gainesville.com By Jeff Schweers / Staff writer Posted Nov 11, 2013]
  5. [3]
  6. [ https://www.theroot.com/what-s-the-matter-with-kansas-school-cuts-not-michell-1790885360 The Root, DREAM DEFENDERS WIN SAFEGUARDS FOR FLORIDA JUVENILE CENTERS]
  7. Defenders Just Picked A Fight With The Youth Private Prison Industry. Here’s Why.By Josh McConnellDecember 19, 2013
  8. Several student organizations pushing for UF to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students Alexia Fernandez, Alligator Contributing Writer Oct 8, 2013
  9. [4]
  10. WLRN How Republicans Turned Unlikely Voters Into Actual Voters For The Democrats By RICK STONE • NOV 15, 2012
  11. [5]
  12. [https://tampa.cbslocal.com/2012/11/12/groups-in-florida-urge-to-expand-early-voting-days/CBS Tampa Bay, Groups In Florida Urge To Expand Early Voting Days November 12, 2012]
  13. [6]
  14. [7]
  15. [8]
  16. [9]
  17. Florida Politics, Darren Soto announces Hispanic, Caribbean, Muslim caucus leaders’ endorsements SCOTT POWERS August 16, 2016
  18. CAIR Florida, http://www.cairflorida.org/government-relations/936-darren-soto-town-hall-meeting-with-muslim-leaders-focuses-concerns-on-trump-travel-banDarren Soto town hall meeting with Muslim Leaders focuses concerns on Trump travel ban By Frank Torres, For Orlando Politics, On 14 April 2017
  19. Florida Politics, CAIR Florida files federal lawsuit against Donald Trump over immigration ban LARRY GRIFFIN.January 31, 2017