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Immigration

Miami billionaire Mike Fernández to create fund to defend undocumented immigrants

The lack of compassion for immigrants moved this Cuban-American healthcare mogul to create a star-studded fund to pay lawyers who defend undocumented immigrants in court who have not committed crimes. "I left Cuba as a 12-year-old child and I know what it is to be in hiding," he says.
12 May 2017 – 1:27 PM EDT

Cuban-born billionaire Mike Fernández says he plans to donate part of his fortune to advocate for the legal rights of undocumented immigrants who have not committed crimes and are subject to deportation.

Many undocumented immigrants lack proper legal representation to defend themselves in immigration courts, and most do not have the resources to pay for their defense.

"The purpose is to offer a public defense, through lawyers, to those people who are here without documents and have not committed crimes," said Fernández, 64, a healthcare mogul and former registered Republican before Donald Trump's election who has since switched to independent.

"I arrived in Mexico without documentation when I left Cuba as a 12-year-old boy. I know what it is to be in hiding. My mother did not go out in Mexico City for the six months we lived there," he told Univision's Vilma Tarazona.

He says it pains him to see the lack of compassion for the immigrant community. "These people leave thier country, their family, their language and everything they know to go to another country to pluck chickens, pick vegetables in the fields, care for the elderly and do the little jobs. These people have not come here to commit any crime," he said.

Fernández has traveled around the United States seeking to raise $5 to $10 million for the Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund. Fernández says he plans to use his own money to help agencies like Catholic Legal Services and the Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice and has already committed $500,000 to each group.

Fernández was a major backer of Republican Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and also supported Presidnt Barack Obama's efforts to improve relations with Cuba.

Among the fund’s board members — who have pledged to raise from $35,000 to $100,000 each — are former NBA star Magic Johnson; Ana Navarro, the sharp-tongued CNN commentator and fellow Bush backer; Cesar Alvarez, a chairman with one of Florida's largest law firms Greenberg Traurig; equity fund manager Bruce Berkowitz; and Miami Dade College president Eduardo Padron.

Actor Andy Garcia and musician and producer Emilio Estefan are also lending their voices to support the fund, Fernández says.

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