Washington, DC – As Florida rebuilds from Hurricane Ian, immigrant workers – documented and undocumented – are an essential part of the recovery workforce. In the process, immigrant workers are exposing the lie at the heart of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republicans’ efforts to demonize migrants and asylum seekers and portray them as threats instead of contributors.
The low levels of immigrants and refugees allowed into the U.S. is having an economic impact, slowing growth, and making problems of inflation and labor shortages harder to tackle. The essential role of immigrant workers was also demonstrated to the nation during the pandemic which saw immigrants and refugees, some of whom lacked legal status, play a vital role in health care, food supply and delivery and a range of other critical jobs. But in the area of hurricane and climate disaster recovery and reconstruction, immigrant workers play an outsized role. As Miriam Jordan wrote in a 2019 New York Times story:
“The increased frequency and severity … [of extreme weather due to climate change has] given rise to a new recovery-and-reconstruction work force. It is overwhelmingly made up of immigrants.
Like the migrant farmworkers of yesteryear who followed the crops, the hurricane workers move from disaster to disaster. They descended on New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; Houston after Harvey; North Carolina after Florence; Florida after Irma and Michael. And as the United States confronts more extreme weather caused by climate change, theirs has become a growth industry.”
The essential contributions of immigrant workers in the disaster recovery and broader economy is at odds with how Republicans’ portrayal throughout this year. Most notably, Ron DeSantis’ recent dehumanizing and transparently political stunt flying Venezuelans to Martha’s Vineyard flies in the face of recent news that Florida is now seeking to recruit migrant workers to help the state’s rebuilding and recovery.
As the Daily Beast highlighted in a story titled, “Irony Meter Explodes as Migrants Lured TO Florida for Hurricane Ian Cleanup,” the “Migrants are reportedly being transported from New York City to Florida for work supporting cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ian—weeks after the governor put migrants on a flight to Martha’s Vineyard. Over the weekend, scores of Venezuelan migrants were boarding vans heading to the Sunshine State from a pickup point in Queens.”
According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice:
“As it turns out, Florida needs immigrants after all, just like the rest of the country. With or without a hurricane, the economy is being starved of immigrants because our legal immigration and refugee systems are so narrow. But Florida, as it has before, is about to witness how critical immigrant workers are in a moment of crisis. When it comes to the mobile workforce that goes towards climate disasters and lends immediate help, immigrants, many of them undocumented, play a pivotal role. Without legal status and labor protections, many of the immigrants who will do the hard work of cleaning up Southwest Florida will be subject to exploitation and wage theft, adding insult and injury to their heroic and necessary work.
The best of America is on display when communities are in crisis and neighbors, friends and family are joined by hardworking specialists in cleaning up after disasters. It takes sacrifice, dedication and perseverance to recover and move forward. And yet, our politicians continue to mostly ignore the realities that drive the escalating damage and death caused by climate change and also fail year after year to address our out-of-date immigration system and laws that do not meet the moment.
It is in local communities standing shoulder to shoulder with immigrants, with and without official documentation, rolling up their sleeves to help rebuild the communities and country they call home that we see what America is all about, not in the political stunts, dangerous rhetoric and demonization of migrants that we are seeing from prominent Republicans in Florida and across the country.”