Chaos for Immigrants, Disruption for the Economy, Privacy Rights of Citizens Taken
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week signed into law S.B. 1718, one of the ugliest anti-immigrant bills that has made it through any state legislature in our country in recent memory. One of its provisions criminalizes Floridians for transporting an undocumented person into the state, even if it’s a loved one. Let’s be honest: this bill is all about punishing immigrants and other Floridians in order to position DeSantis for the Republican primary for president. His goal is to be even more extreme than Trump.
S.B. 1718 has only been in place for just a couple days, but we’re already seeing the kind of harm that DeSantis and state Republicans will inflict on the state through this legislation. The effects are immediate and widespread .
“Doctors fear deadly consequences from Florida immigration bill,” local affiliate WINK reported. That’s because this despicable legislation forces hospitals that accept Medicaid and emergency departments to question their patients about their immigration status. Dr. Antonio Gonzalez, a provider at the Community Medical Care Center in Immokalee, told WINK he’s afraid his immigrant patients will forgo care, including emergency treatment, because of the law.
“This is gonna really be a devastation when it comes to the medical care of immigrants,” he said in the report. “Because they are afraid of immigration [authorities] and they don’t want to be deported. And now with this policy, more people won’t go to the offices and to the ER, and I think that this is going to create a bigger problem.”
But it’s not just terrible human costs. Florida is also among states that’ve been struggling to hire workers amid a labor shortage. But as S.B. 1718 was being aggressively pushed by Republicans to the governor’s desk, immigrant laborers were already beginning to flee their worksites. One viral TikTok video shared by Florida organizer Thomas Kennedy showed a construction site devoid of laborers a couple days before DeSantis signed the bill:
Florida worker shows another empty construction site after lawmakers passed an anti-immigrant bill making it harder for undocumented people to work. DeSantis and cronies ruining our state and demonizing folks who want to work and be left alone while providing for their families. pic.twitter.com/Yv4YLfy6dW
— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) May 8, 2023
It’s an open secret that the construction industry depends on immigrants, especially following natural disasters. So much so that even as DeSantis was pulling his little political stunt last year luring vulnerable migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard with the help of shady recruiter Perla, Florida contractors were going to New York City to recruit migrants to help aid in Hurricane Ian cleanup. DeSantis and the Republican legislators know this too. Initially, DeSantis wanted to impose E-Verify on all Florida businesses. But, “state lawmakers placed limitations after receiving pushback from small businesses statewide.” That’s why they changed the E-Verify requirements to exempt smaller businesses. But it really didn’t make much of a difference to frightened workers — and as hurricane season is also set to begin in a matter of weeks.
“Many workers are leaving, thinking they’re going to be deported, so they’re going to other states,” one laborer, Jose, told CBS News. “Everyone is really uneasy…we just want to work to help our families.”
Contractors in the state had already been expressing fears about the labor shortage, saying projects are being delayed as a result. “We are desperate here in Florida for more individuals getting into our industry,” Michele Daugherty, president and CEO of Central Florida’s Associated Builders and Contractors, told local affiliate WESH.
Immigrants with and without legal status are also the backbone of the agricultural industry, and that’s no different in Florida despite DeSantis’ anti-immigrant chest-beating. Because more than half of the state’s 500,000 farmworkers lack legal status, farms could also begin to see major losses due to the law. Farmers “are already struggling to find people to do the work, I think we would see a lot of crop loss,” Farmworkers Association of Florida Executive Director Neza Xiuhtecutli told WFLA.
DeSantis can’t say he wasn’t warned, because anti-immigrant laws in Alabama and Georgia already showed how xenophobic legislation is both hateful and costly. ”Georgia Farmers Say Immigration Law Keeps Workers Away,” NPR reported in 2011. “Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers,” the Associated Press reported the same year. “The Law Of Unintended Consequences: Georgia’s Immigration Law Backfires,” Forbes said, also in 2011.
“We basically have to flee,” one South Florida nursery worker told NBC News Miami. “Flee as if we were criminals, and we are not criminals. On the contrary, we are here to work, and we work for a lot of companies.” Just like in construction, immigrant labor is agriculture’s life’s blood, and DeSantis is hemorrhaging the state of its workers, and rich diversity, in the name of his political ambitions.
“Throughout this legislative session, the majority legislators have sought to use our communities as political scapegoats in their relentless quest to advance Governor DeSantis’ political ambitions,” Florida Immigrant Coalition Executive Director Tessa Petit said in a statement received by America’s Voice. “Have the legislators and the Governor really thought about what all of this will really do to our home?”