The next Republican presidential debate is set to take place in Miami, Florida on Nov. 8., where we’ll hear repetitions of the extreme, cruel, and unworkable immigration policies from the previous debates in Wisconsin and California. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will likely try to dominate the night since the debate will be in his home turf, but also because his presidential campaign has been flailing — badly. Still, expect him to boast about his actions in the state, something he’s already been doing leading into the November debate. So let’s take a look at the current state of Florida.
DeSantis’ signature anti-immigrant law has scared away workers critical to Florida’s economy and recovery from natural disasters. Even before its implementation in July 2023, S.B. 1718 was scaring away workers critical to the state. “Signs of migrant flight grow ahead of new Florida immigration law,” read a May 2023 headline from South Florida Sun Sentinel. The bill’s own GOP supporters in the state legislature would eventually admit workers were “starting to move to Georgia and other states,” and during a June 2023 community meeting the legislator who supported the bill begged workers to stay. S.B. 1718 has also chased away the recovery workers that had helped the state recover from natural disasters in the past. Resilience Force workers were instrumental in helping the state recover from Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018. But following passage of S.B. 1718, Resilience Force Executive Director Saket Soni revealed that more than half of the organization’s workers said they would not travel to Florida to aid in Hurricane Ian recovery. “They felt very fearful,” Soni told CNN. “No amount of money would be worth it if it meant they would be incarcerated or deported.”
S.B. 1718 is hurting the state’s economy, by exacerbating existing labor shortages in key industries. The previous experiences of Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia all served as warnings that anti-immigrant bills are disastrous. “Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers,” the Associated Press reported on the state’s anti-immigrant law in 2011. The passage of S.B. 1718 in Florida has only exacerbated existing shortages in industries where immigrants play essential roles. This shortage could now take years to solve. “Greg Batista, founder and owner of G. Batista Engineering & Construction, has seen the effect of the new laws first hand,” the Miami Herald reported last month. He said that construction worker shortages in the Miami-Dade region mean projects are now taking double the usual time to complete. “He attributed much of the problem to the exodus of construction workers from Florida.” There’s similar shortages in agriculture, another industry that immigrants keep alive. Shortages “affect all of us because this is the type of job that nobody wants to do,” Denise Negron, executive director of the Farmworkers Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County, told WPTV. “We really have to be grateful because if we don’t have them, we would not have food on our tables.” Ultimately, the law could lead to billions in GDP losses to the state.
Florida taxpayer dollars have gone to wasteful border deployments and cruel (and possibly criminal) stunts using migrants as human props. Florida is nowhere near the border with Mexico, but that sure didn’t stop DeSantis from sending more than 1,100 Florida National Guard troops and other state officers on a taxpayer-funded stunt to the region. The fact is that a deployment is nothing more than a wasteful political stunt to advance anti-immigration messaging instead of solutions. Governor Greg Abbott has shown in Texas that these political stunts have come at immense costs, both financially and in human terms. Notably, both Abbott and DeSantis have used vulnerable migrant men, women and children as human props, by transporting them to regions governed by Democrats. Abbott is despicable but DeSantis managed to behave even more reprehensibly, by spending millions in taxpayer funds to transport migrants not out of Florida, but out of Texas. DeSantis chartered planes from a GOP-allied donor in order to move migrants from Texas to Massachusetts, luring them onto the flights with a bogus brochure “crudely,” made to look like a government document, that offered all sorts of false promises. The taxpayer-funded stunt was possibly a criminal scheme. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office recommended the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office bring charges against so-far unnamed suspects who helped carry out the scheme. “The case filed includes both felony and misdemeanor charges of Unlawful Restraint,” a statement said.
DeSantis’ policies targeting a number of communities have hurt the state’s reputation and left Floridians in fear. A coalition that included civil and immigrant rights groups this past year issued advisories warning against travel to the state due to DeSantis policies attacking Black Americans, immigrants, and LGBTQ people. In addition to passing anti-immigrant legislation, DeSantis pushed through the notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill and moved to ban AP African American Studies, all in an effort to portray himself to the right of GOP presidential candidates. DeSantis offensively claimed the AP Black history course lacked educational value, while a provision in his anti-LGBTQ legislation blocks certain health providers “from providing gender-affirming care to transgender adults, disrupting the health care of an estimated 80%+ of transgender patients at clinics statewide,” the HRC noted. President Kelley Robinson said “LGBTQ+ people in Florida are finding themselves in a state of emergency every single day.” Meanwhile, DeSantis’ team mocked the travel warning issued by the NAACP. Christina Pushaw, a campaign staffer and operative who has also relentlessly pushed an anti-LGBTQ agenda, mocked, “Does this mean no Urban Beach Week?”
Dangerous rhetoric and fringe beliefs pushed by anti-immigrant voices like DeSantis have had deadly consequences in Florida. Three Black Americans were murdered by a racist shooter while shopping in Jacksonville, Florida, this past August. The three victims – 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, 29-year-old Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., and 19-year-old Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion – were gunned down by a white gunman who authorities say had a swastika-emblazoned weapon and “made clear in his writings that he hated Black people,” the Associated Press reported. Local communities and state officials were outraged when DeSantis then spoke at a vigil for the victims. “The governor of our state of Florida has created an environment ripe for this,” slammed state Rep. Angie Nixon, while Florida Senate candidate Carlos Guillermo Smith noted DeSantis refused to loudly condemn neo-Nazi activity in the state. DeSantis has disturbingly embraced the use of deadly violence at the southern border, and made the white nationalist “invasion” conspiracy theory that’s been tied to a number of deadly domestic terror attacks central to his campaign. “My hometown of El Paso is still reeling from the mass-shooting perpetrated by a white nationalist whose rhetoric is now touted by DeSantis and many more Republicans,” Texas-based America’s Voice Campaigns Manager Mario Carrillo said. “That the DeSantis campaign is continuing to elevate and mainstream these false conspiracies is dangerous and irresponsible, but not surprising given the type of campaign he intends to run.”
Despite DeSantis’ ancestor nearly getting barred from U.S. entry due to restrictionist policy, he’s become one of the most vociferous and extreme anti-immigrant politicians in the nation. “His leap to far-right extremism in the name of his political aspirations has been startling to see,” America’s Voice Political Associate Yuna Oh wrote in a 2023 post, “Ron DeSantis Imagines a United States Without Immigration.” While it remains to be seen if it will cost his campaign, Florida and its communities have already been paying the price.