Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, 67, currently serves as chairman and CEO of MBF Healthcare Partners, L.P., a private investment firm located in the Miami area. Through the years, he’s been the founder and/or majority shareholder of a number of healthcare-related companies. It’s unclear how much he’s currently worth, but earlier in the decade, he was worth an estimated $200 million. Other sources have referred to him as a billionaire.
Away from business, the Cuban-born Fernandez was once a major Republican donor operating within a key swing state and contributing more than $4 million to the GOP in past years. However, he has broken from Republican orthodoxy on several fronts, lambasting Donald Trump and also supporting gun control. “It is demoralizing to me to see adults worshipping a false idol,” he told Politico in 2017, “I can’t continue to write checks for anyone… I know what it’s like to lose a country.”
A Saner Immigration Debate
Fernandez’s biggest pushback to Trumpism and the xenophobia that fuels it has been IMPAC (The Immigration Partnership & Coalition) Fund, which he founded in 2017. The organization works to “change public policy around immigration through building a coalition of reasonable, rational moderates to facilitate bipartisan action that is economically necessary, politically smart, and morally correct.”
While that sounds like a tall order in today’s hyper-polarized climate, IMPAC isn’t mainly focused on national policy, instead focusing on working with business and civic leaders in Florida who understand the “contributions that immigrants make to the economy and communities.” The IMPAC Fund is part of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
“It’s very shortsighted to be treating people as if they were not human. We all have the desire to excel,” Fernandez told me recently.
In our conversation, Fernandez told me a bit more about his work through IMPAC Fund, and also about his broader philanthropy, including steering, with his wife Constance, the Miguel B. Fernández Family Foundation, which gave away around $7.1 million in a recent year. Through the years, the family has contributed over $100 million to charitable causes with an eye toward the East Coast, including their South Florida community.
“I’ve always been what I hope to be: a grateful individual with my feet firmly planted on Earth. I know I’m not that talented. When God gives you as much as he’s given, there should be an obligation to return some of that to those who are not as fortunate,” Fernandez told me. For the wealthy businessman, this gratitude is rooted in deeply personal forces.
On Christmas Eve 1964, when the Cuba-born Fernandez was 12, he and his family were escorted by the Cuban military out of their home and exiled from the country. The family made it to Mexico, taking refuge in the country until, a year later, they arrived in the United States to begin a new life. While admitting that parochial schools aren’t for everyone, Fernandez talks about the valuable education he received at Xavier High School, an independent Jesuit school for boys in Manhattan, which he continues to support via his foundation.
A Major Focus on Education
Overall, the Miguel B. Fernández Family Foundation’s grantmaking strongly focuses on education, also supporting institutions including Loyola University in Maryland, Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, Carrollton School for Girls in Miami, and Miami-Dade Community College. “Our family foundation is all educationally focused, and aims to instill the same sense I felt receiving the opportunity of education with my five children. I want them to know how blessed they are, and the enormous obligation we have to help others,” Fernandez says.
Fernandez traces his first philanthropic experience to his early 20s, on the heels of the lessons he learned from Jesuit priests in school, who Fernandez calls “probably the most influential individuals in my life outside of my parents.” After serving in the Army, Fernandez’s first job was working in insurance, making about $500 a month. He read an article about a young girl living in the favelas in Brazil whose legs were burned as a baby. Fernandez explains that people in these impoverished communities illegally tap into electricity and gas infrastructure, and that these kinds of accidents are commonplace as a result.
The young businessman ended up bringing the girl to the United States and funded her prosthetics so that she could walk again. “It was a very gratifying event to be able to do that. I never met her, but it was powerful,” Fernandez says.
Through the years, the family has also been strongly involved with the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, which was founded by former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr. "I was involved very early on and gave some seed money. The organization recognizes that children’s brains develop the most during the first five years of life, and we need to make sure those who need it most can get a leg up early on in life,” Fernandez tells me.
“I Can Certainly Relate”
And then there’s the recently minted IMPAC Fund, which provides both defense for detained immigrants who have no criminal records, and also helps with policy at the Florida state level. In 2018, the organization reports that they successfully squelched two anti-immigrant measures in Florida, and partnered with organizations on the ground who provided 6,000 know-your-rights presentations, conducted 3,000 legal screenings, and represented “over 400 of our neighbors in immigration court.”
As an immigrant himself, Fernandez speaks to the forces that spur his work through IMPAC Fund: “My family arrived without documentation, so today, as we talk about undocumented aliens, I certainly can relate. I used to be one of them, but in a different country, and I know what it means to be hiding with your family for six months to make sure you don’t get deported. But had it not been for the welcoming I received in the U.S.—I truly felt welcome, and felt helped—I would not have been able to make the contributions to society that I have been able and blessed to have made.”
The politically active Fernandez also spoke to the state of the Republican Party, levying another criticism: “We all have the desire to excel. And the Republicans primarily should recognize that working hard, being independent, and providing for your family is a basic conservative value, and is what these people are trying to do. I don’t think they [immigrants] are getting a fair shake from the current system, and the way they’re being treated by an irrational government that, at this point, is just pushing anger and fear.”
Before we ended our conversation, Fernandez also told me about work he’s done with the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Indiana, away from his normal focus areas. Fernandez befriended the late Shimon Peres, the ninth president of Israel, who helped him with work around Cuban-Americans connecting better with Cubans who were never able to leave. Shimon later introduced Fernandez to Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor, founder of the CANDLES Museum.
“She taught me how to be more empathetic, and be more forgiving of others. It takes a lot more strength to forgive than to stay angry and vengeful,” Fernandez says of Eva. And when the CANDLES Museum was firebombed by an arsonist in 2003, Fernandez stepped in to make a significant contribution to rebuild it. “Eva’s only sin was to talk about forgiveness as a way to improve our own lives,” Fernandez adds.