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Hispanic Heritage in SWFL: Pablo Hurtado

Rachel Iacovone
Pablo Hurtado

Today is the final day of Hispanic Heritage Month, which extends from September 15th through October 15th.
In honor of those of Hispanic heritage here in Southwest Florida, WGCU has been featuring local Latinos from across the region -- from all sorts of professions, genders and backgrounds.
Today, you'll hear from an immigration attorney, whose own journey to the U.S. set him on a path to one day help people like him.

Hi, my name’s Pablo Hurtado. I’m the founding attorney of Hurtado Cavanaugh Attorneys at Law. I was originally born in Bolivia and moved to the United States in 1979.

My dad had been coming to the United States throughout the ‘70s through work and also just a desire to eventually migrate to the United States.

So, in 1979, he actually came with the entire family. My mom and my other four brothers and sisters. We were a total of five at the time. My little sister was born in 1980 here in the United States.

But, he came actually to go to Taccoa Falls College in Northeast Georgia, which is a bible college. So, we came here with a tourist visa to change it to a student visa, and he applied for it. Unfortunately, through the immigration process at the time, he never heard back.

So, the college let him stay for a year and study, but eventually, he wasn’t able to continue his studies because his student visa was neither approved or denied. It just got lost in the black hole of immigration bureaucracy. So, that left us really in limbo because we didn’t have to go back necessarily because we were still waiting to hear from Immigration, but at the same time, my dad couldn’t study. He couldn’t lawfully work.

About 1980, 1981, I think, things took a turn for the worse. My dad’s anxiety just went through the roof. He got very ill. And, we ended up living in a Chevy Nova for a period of time. Everybody in the family kind of debates how long that period of time was, but it was anywhere from a couple of weeks to maybe a little over a month. And, at that point, we were six kids, so there was eight people living in the car.

We eventually made it to a church in the Hillsborough County area, and we actually stayed in the nursery of the church for an entire year. And, my dad kind of got back on his feet, started feeling a little better, and he got a job at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.

Things just started getting better. We eventually made it down to Miami in about 1984ish, and my dad started a business. And, he just started doing well. The big change for us was in 1986, 1987, when Ronald Reagan signed the Amnesty Act, and that day was the day that we knew, “You know what? We’re going to be able to stay in the United States.”

I remember when my older brothers graduated from high school, and their immigration status, you know, was still kind of open-ended. It was difficult for them to develop goals because they didn’t know what the future was going to hold.

I’m very proud that my mom and dad can say that all six of their kids have college degrees. Three of us have post-graduate degrees. That is the reason that my mom and dad left everything in Bolivia to come to the United States.

I actually went to Taccoa Falls to get my associate’s. All of us did actually. That was like a, “Hey, you know, dad couldn’t finish what he started, but we’re all going to go there and at least get our associate’s degree there.”

It was an interdisciplinary degree that I was pursuing, and I was thinking that maybe that would set me up for a law degree. But, I had no idea how to become a lawyer.

My brother, David, he was getting his master’s degree, and his brother-in-law was in law school, a gentleman by the name of Danny Vega.

And, David said, “Hey, I’m going up to Virginia to go to Danny’s graduation. He’s graduating from law school.”

And, I was like, “Whoa.”

And, he’s like, “Well, you know, I can just set up a little lunch or a phone call, and I’m sure he’d be happy to give you the information there.”

So, he did, and you know, I’ve got to give so much credit to Danny because he literally sat me, and he said, “Look, this is how you go to law school. This is what you have to do, and then, this is what happens when you graduate law school (the Bar Exam and all those things).”

I think we all need someone like that, especially in our communities, because we just don’t have, a lot of the time, those opportunities to ask those questions to different professionals.

Before I went into immigration law, I was a prosecutor here locally. I was at the State Attorney’s office from 2007 to 2009.

When I was in law school, I wasn’t thinking about doing immigration law, and I wasn’t even thinking about being a prosecutor. I actually went in there thinking I was going to do something in entertainment law or patent law or something of that nature.

But, while I was there, someone said, “Hey, you know, you can make pretty good money at the courthouse being an interpreter and translator.”

And, I’m like, you know, “I can do that!”

And, while I was doing that, I met an attorney by the name of Dru Wicker, and I really, really, really appreciated the way she was so kind and compassionate towards her clients that didn’t know English. She treated her Spanish-speaking clients with so much dignity.

She offered me a clerkship at her office, and turns out, she didn’t really do too much criminal work. What she really did was immigration law.

I just fell in love with it. It was like, yeah, I remember going through some of this stuff, but I mean, I only knew, like, my little aspect of immigration. But, she really opened my eyes to how big and expansive immigration was.

I ended up getting the job as a prosecutor, but even while I was prosecuting, I kind of still had that heart for immigration law. It can be extremely frustrating because it is so bureaucratic and nonsensical sometimes. But, at the same time, it is the most rewarding area of the law because you see people who absolutely love the United States and the idea of the American Dream, and whether they came in here legally or illegally, you know, I don’t know too many people that would cross a desert for weeks, just so they can come here and work.

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.
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