Videos of Empty Store Aisles Unrelated to Florida’s Immigration Bill

May 18, 2023
10:42 AM

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. Videos circulating on social media purport to show empty Florida grocery stores due to a boycott of truck drivers over an immigration bill recently signed by DeSantis. However, while some truckers have threatened to stop deliveries in the state, these grocery aisles are empty for reasons that are unrelated to the recent bill. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

By KARENA PHAN, Associated Press

A sweeping immigration bill recently signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is sparking fears of deserted workplaces and barren grocery shelves.

The new law, set to take effect in July, will require businesses with more than 25 staffers to verify that their employees can legally work in the U.S. through a federal system, among other restrictions. Critics have said the change could lead to a shortage of workers on farms and construction sites.

Amid outcry, a pair of videos circulating widely on social media are claiming to show empty supermarkets in the Sunshine State, purportedly due to truck drivers boycotting deliveries to the state in protest of the immigration overhaul.

But the footage is unrelated. And while some truckers have posted on social media calling on drivers to curb deliveries to Florida, immigration advocates say it’s too soon to tell if there will be any widespread action.

Here are the facts.

CLAIM: Videos show empty grocery store shelves in Florida because truckers are boycotting the state over a new immigration law.

THE FACTS: While both clips show Florida stores, neither has anything to do with the new law or a boycott. One is from October and shows shortages during Hurricane Ian, while another shows a recent refrigeration issue at a single Walmart Supercenter.

The first video shows a shopper panning their camera around the refrigerators and freezers at a Winn-Dixie, while saying: “Supermarkets are empty in Florida. There’s nothing, nothing, look.”

“Undocumented workers are leaving Florida in droves. It’s affecting farmers, hotels, restaurants, construction, lawn companies, & especially grocery stores w perishables,” reads one Twitter post of the footage, which had received more than 6,000 likes as of Wednesday. “Understandably many Hispanic truck drivers are refusing to enter the state. Nicely done DeSantis!”

However, the video was originally posted on TikTok on October 2, 2022, after Hurricane Ian made landfall. The caption on the original post includes the hashtag “hurricaneian” and says, “no food in the Winn-Dixie in Florida on 17 and 92,” referring to a store in Fern Park, a suburb of Orlando.

The second video shared on social media shows a large sign that reads “Packaged Deli” and above a partially empty refrigerated aisle. “No groceries smh sad these truckers weren’t playing when they said they were not delivering anything to Florida !!!” reads the caption on a TikTok post tagging the location as Palmetto, Florida, with more than 800,000 likes.

The signage in the video matches a Walmart store in Palmetto, but the grocery chain said the lack of groceries in the clip was unrelated to any supply issues.

Charles Crowson, a spokesperson for Walmart, said in an email that it was a result of a refrigerator malfunction and should be repaired within the next few days.

While the videos are unrelated to the recent legislation, there have been posts on social media from Latino truck drivers responding to the new laws by threatening to boycott deliveries to the state and calling on others to do so.

In addition to the new rules around E-Verify, the law would provide $12 million for DeSantis’ migrant relocation initiative, require hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on its intake forms, and prohibit local governments from providing money to organizations that issue identification cards to immigrants lacking permanent legal status in the country. It would also invalidate out-of-state driver’s licenses for that same group.

Immigration advocacy groups tell the AP it’s too early to have data on the impacts of the law since it was only signed last week and does not go into effect until July 1.

Thomas Kennedy, a spokesperson with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said he was aware of the truckers’ boycott threats, but said it is too soon to say if there will be large-scale scale actions.

“It remains to be seen, I mean, you know, boycotts and strikes and work stoppages take a lot of time, a lot of a lot of organization. And this is bubbling up. But again, the law hasn’t even gone into effect,” said Kennedy. “There’s definitely the ingredients and some energy there.”

Kennedy said the coalition has heard anecdotal reports that many migrants are afraid to show up to work since the law was signed and there was apprehension in the community.

The new legislation will impact construction and factory workers, according to Bethzaida Olivera Vazquez, who is the national director of policy and legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens, which is the oldest Latino civil rights group in the U.S.

“This law would have a very harmful effect for businesses,” said Vazquez. “If there were to be a boycott among truckers the impacts could be significant.”