Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
Florida’s sweeping anti-immigration bill is set to go into effect this Saturday, and critics of the law warned Wednesday that it will impact far more than the undocumented immigrant population.
“Floridians will see higher costs for our groceries due to worker shortages, longer waits at restaurants, struggles to keep employees, less housing options as construction workforces flee Florida and it will be harder to find people to care for our children and our aging population,” said Miami-Dade Democratic state Rep. Dotie Joseph, who speculated about what the future may look like on July 1.
In a telephone conference call, Joseph said that “SB 1718 inhumanely and intentionally terrorizes immigrants and exacerbates our state’s existing post-COVID labor shortages in vital industries, including tourism, agriculture, construction, hospitality and restaurants.”
The controversial bill imposes penalties on Florida businesses who opt not to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of their workforce, and makes it a felony for anyone to “knowingly” transport an undocumented worker into the state. Hospitals that accept Medicaid now are mandated to compile financial data on the cost of treating undocumented patients, while out-of-state driver’s licenses legally possessed by the undocumented will no longer be accepted in Florida.
There have been reports for the past few weeks by news organizations that the passage of the law has prompted a number of undocumented immigrants to flee the state – which, while the intent of the bill sponsors, is likely to deleteriously affect businesses who have historically relied on immigrant labor.
However, it’s not clear when or if the data will show if there’s been an attrition in the workforce.
According to the Florida Policy Institute, there are more than 390,000 undocumented workers who work in six key industries in the state who made over $12 billion in wages in 2019 (the last year with the most robust recent data, the group says). Those are: (1) Construction; (2) Professional, Scientific, Management, Administrative, and Waste Management Services; (3) Accommodation and Food Services, Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation; (4) Retail Trade; (5) Other Services; and (6) Agriculture.
“Our farmers are saying that they can’t find work, and that they’re going to see different crops rot in the fields,” said Central Florida U.S. Rep. Darren Soto. “Our restaurateurs have seen many of their workers leave when they came up to visit me just last week. Our hoteliers came to Washington last week and talked about how they’re losing employees…these are Florida’s top industries: tourism and agriculture in particular. And then the construction industry – this is going to affect affordable housing in a key way, and it will also affect infrastructure. And for what? So (Gov. Ron) DeSantis can have another radical talking point towards a stalled presidential campaign.”
This was not the first time that Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee have attempted to pass a robust E-Verify bill, but lobbying by business groups previously resulted in either the measures dying in the Legislature or being severely watered down. However, the business community has not been very vocal in opposing this year’s law.
Samuel Vilchez, the Florida state director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, said on the call that the way that Gov. DeSantis has handled the conflict with the Disney Corporation has chilled other business leaders from speaking out. “It’s a very difficult political context, and the governor and the administration have pushed to create this environment in which business leaders are afraid and concerned of coming out publicly,” he said.
Rep. Joseph said she was aware that “several” business organizations were involved in diluting some of the provisions that were initially in the bill. “Would we appreciate them being even more vociferous about that? Absolutely,” she said.
In fact, lobbying by business interests was considered to be a factor with the E-Verify provision in the law now only mandated for businesses with 25 employees or more. The original version of the bill called for mandatory E-Verify for all businesses.
More protests and walk-outs by groups opposed to the measure are expected to take place over the next week as the law goes into effect this weekend, such as Miami and Homestead.
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