Anti-immigrant legislation in Florida has left undocumented immigrants afraid of going to work, with many leaving the state out of fear of arrest or even deportation.
“An alien who is not duly authorized to work by the immigration laws of the United States, the Attorney General of the United States, or the United States Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and who knowingly uses a false identification document or who fraudulently uses an identification document of another person for the purpose of obtaining employment commits a felony of the third degree,” reads the Florida bill, which is set to take effect July 1.
From criminalizing the transportation of undocumented immigrants —whether they are family or not— to requiring hospitals to “collect patient immigration status data information on admission or registration forms,” Florida SB 1718 has produced a wave of anxiety among immigrants and their networks. And in a blow to large construction firms, the law requires government contractors to use the E-verify system, which could put them at risk of losing a substantial amount of their labor force or face heavy fines.
Spanish language social media has exploded with Latino truck drivers calling for a boycott and refusing to take shipments into Florida.
Things are about to get interesting.
— Arturo Dominguez 🇨🇺🇺🇲 (@ExtremeArturo) May 13, 2023
For contractors often granted exemptions from the federal government through “good faith compliance,” the law has already created work stoppages across several industries impacting infrastructure, commercial and industrial projects, causing major delays in the completion of myriad projects. As noted by social media posts and news reports from Florida across various platforms, new home construction and agriculture have already been impacted in just the first two weeks, due to the onset of fears about the new law.
With U.S. citizens unwilling to do the work migrant workers do, much of the lost labor may not be recoverable as many migrant families have fled the state in search of better opportunities. This is not a new phenomenon. In a country where the majority never harvested their own food and relied on either the labor of the enslaved or that of immigrants, the typical U.S. citizen is unaccustomed to such work.
The Alabama Effect
In 2011, a similar law that “attack[ed] every aspect of an illegal alien’s life” was passed in Alabama with dire impacts. As in Florida, crops went unharvested and rotted in the fields as migrants fled for other opportunities. Alabama’s HB 56 not only caused similar racial profiling as we’ve seen in other states, it too prohibited the transportation of undocumented immigrants and required schools to determine if students were undocumented, among other rules.
The state attempted to supplement the loss of its labor force with prison labor as U.S. citizens again refused to do the needed work—an effort that ultimately failed. By 2013, most of the law was struck down by federal courts, and the remainder of the law is either broadly ignored or unenforced by the state.
Many would argue that Alabama’s utter failure should serve as a lesson to Florida. But Gov. DeSantis and Republicans think that have found a way to make such anti-immigrant legislation stick by echoing federal laws and expanding on them.
Previous failures of similar laws serve as a foundation for the retooled xenophobic laws we’re seeing across the country. Based on the premise that immigrants are taking something away from U.S. citizens, broad xenophobia is spreading not just in white communities, but in Black, Latino, and many other communities as well. And the hatred of immigrants translates into support for oppressive, inhumane policies and the candidates who want to make them a reality.
— Arturo Dominguez 🇨🇺🇺🇲 (@ExtremeArturo) May 16, 2023
In 2012, the Supreme Court blocked major provisions of the law in a 5-3 ruling. By 2016, the remnants of the law ended due to a settlement in federal court. But by then, the damage to Arizona’s economy had already been done.
Like in Arizona and Alabama, Florida workers in mixed-status families are being pressured to flee the state whether they are documented or not. While many in Florida have been expressing xenophobia in referring to the Latino labor force as “illegals” on social media, what they are ignoring is that they are losing a substantial amount of workers who are in fact “legal” to work in the United States. That blind spot is setting Floridians up for disaster.
An additional feature not anticipated in all of this is the support from Latinos, Black people, and yes, white people all over the country. Florida workers are being invited to states from Kentucky to California, as there is no shortage of work in nearly every other state.
Florida serves as yet another example of what happens when policy is driven by hate while no one considers the consequences. Meanwhile, native-born U.S. citizens have no interest in working long hours in environmental conditions that border on the extreme—even if the pay is high.
Making matters worse for Florida is a growing movement by truckers to boycott the state, with truckers refusing to deliver any goods into or out of the state. Initially started by Latino truck drivers, the movement has now grown to include Black drivers, white drivers, and other drivers of every stripe.
The trucker boycott of Florida is growing exponentially every day. Latino drivers, White drivers, and Black drivers are all organizing in support of immigrants in the US.
It's a beautiful thing to see.
Shout out to Hispanics TikTok for this awesome compilation. pic.twitter.com/YgAdk0J2hU
— Arturo Dominguez 🇨🇺🇺🇲 (@ExtremeArturo) May 17, 2023
The impacts of a boycott like this are exponential. With produce rotting in the fields and now a limited supply of truckers to transport them, Florida is already suffering the damage of racist policy decisions.
“The trucker boycott is more organic and natural and not necessarily organized,” said social media influencer Carlos Eduardo Espina. “It’s definitely spontaneous. Truckers have their own culture and communication networks so it’s hard to measure the number of truckers involved. But it’s certainly not just one or two truckers. Even if it’s a couple of hundred people, it’s starting to snowball into something bigger.”
In addition, a planned June 1 “Day Without Immigrants” protest is also gaining steam due to the attention brought to it by truckers. The protest was planned prior to the passage of SB1718, but it has now grown and been adopted by people across the country.
In the United States, the labor force is heavily reliant on tens of millions of Latinos. As Latinos who spent our entire careers in the elements or have parents who do so, we know this all too well. We laugh when xenophobes demonize the family members that supported us and gave us a better life than they had by doing the work the same xenophobes refuse to do.
Another thing people are missing about Florida is that the majority of immigrant workers are likely documented and it's probable they have family members that are not. That, my friends, is enough to get any one of us to want to leave the state too.
SB1718 is displacing families.
— Arturo Dominguez 🇨🇺🇺🇲 (@ExtremeArturo) May 16, 2023
Immigrants aren’t taking anything away from anyone—they are simply doing what most refuse to do. U.S. society is built on consumption and materialism, with a population that won’t support itself in the quest to outdo each other with cooler toys than the next guy. An extreme sense of individualism is why we don’t see neighbors greeting neighbors—in other words, no sense of community.
The impact of the pro-immigrant boycott movement, spawned and strengthened by truck drivers, could be dire for Florida. Gov. DeSantis and Florida Republicans may think they can supplement the state’s labor force with prison workers, but it will be interesting to see how they try to replace the estimated 800,000 undocumented workers and their families in the state—not to mention the tremendous number of documented workers who are part of mixed-status families and are leaving the state out of fear for their loved ones’ safety and well-being.
“We’re going to see a lot more actions the closer we get to July 1 when SB1718 takes effect,” said Espina. “A lot of people are already canceling their vacations in Florida. Many people are saying that the trucker boycott is not real because it’s hard to put a number on the number of people participating in the boycott. It’s very organic and something to keep an eye on.”
This new attempt by Florida’s leader to create worry and oppress those deemed lesser than white people will fail like those in Alabama and Arizona.