Like the draconian anti-immigrant laws of the past, DeSantis’ show-me-your-papers law already starting to backfire.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis got tons of press coverage yesterday when reporters cut and pasted his latest anti-immigrant stunt press release about “deploying assets” to help a fellow anti-immigrant governor in Texas. DeSantis, who is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential election any day now, announced that he was deploying more than 1,100 “assets” to Texas, including hundreds of Florida National Guard soldiers.
But with hurricane season beginning in just a couple days, DeSantis might want to consider bringing back those assets, now that his new anti-immigrant law appears to be driving out the laborers who have historically shouldered cleanup and rebuilding efforts following natural disasters. In example after example, apparent consequences from S.B. 1718 have continued to play out, with warnings from farmers that Floridians should get ready to pay more at the supermarket and videos of construction sites devoid of any workers.
“Videos circulating on social media show several construction sites in Florida abandoned by immigrant workers allegedly because of the state’s new immigration law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis last week,” Local 10 News reported Monday. One TikTok user noted that his video from a construction site 20 miles from Orlando was not from a Sunday, but instead a Tuesday morning, when a worksite would normally be bustling.
“Usually at this time there’s a lot of people here, working, all kinds of constructors doing their jobs. Roofers, of course, a lot of noise, and loud Mexican music. This is what you hear today.” That noise was silence. “So it is happening. It is not fake. It is not a joke.” In the distance, one lone worker could be heard hammering.
May 16th update. No workers in Florida.
The danger that DeSantis’ law poses to the construction industry was even noted in The Real Deal, the leading outlet for real estate news, which warned that S.B. 1718 “could increase prices, inflation.” While DeSantis wanted to impose E-Verify on all Florida businesses, “state lawmakers placed limitations after receiving pushback from small businesses statewide,” The Capitolist reported in April.
But the carve-out has clearly not been enough to assuage frightened immigrant workers. Florida is home to roughly 800,000 undocumented workers who pay nearly $600 million in local and state taxes. Spanish-language media outlet La Nacion this week even reprinted a check-list from advocacy organization Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) on what undocumented families should do to prepare in case of possible detention, including creating plans on who will care for any children who are left behind. We’ve seen these devastating family separations play out in raids targeting worksites like meat processing plants, another industry where immigrant workers are the backbone.
“This legislation will likely have a detrimental effect on the economy here in [Florida], because it will make freedom of contract and freedom to labor harder to actually exercise — and this may have negative effects on consumer prices and on inflation consequently,” Jill Maskivker, professor of political science at Rollins College, said in The Real Deal. “What happens when laws get stricter about undocumented labor is that many of these workers may cease to pay taxes … prompted by fear of deportation. Everybody loses when this happens, not just employers and not just workers.”
Floridians’ pocketbooks will also be losing. You don’t have to believe us, believe the farmers there in their state. As CBS News Miami reported, “On new Fla. immigration law, S. Florida farmer warns, ‘Get ready to pay more at grocery store.’”
“’You’re not going to get an entirely American (person) to come out and do the work that we do,’ said John Alger, C.E.O. of Alger Farms, Inc,” CBS News reported. “For over 40 years Alger has been in the farming industry, whose family owns over 1,200 acres of land in SW Miami-Dade. His employees do a variety of jobs ‘some tractor driving, some manual labor, it’s hot there’s mosquitoes, it’s an uncomfortable situation; not easy.’”
Some might say, if you want to get U.S.-born workers, you need to pay more. No one’s going to disagree with that. Farm work is highly-skilled and arduous labor, and farmworkers regardless of legal immigration status are deserving of living wages and full benefits. They feed America (and DeSantis), and they deserve dignity. But in California, even when wages were increased, U.S.-born workers still weren’t interested.
“When it comes to people who may say they are not farmers or do not hire undocumented immigrants, Alger does not hesitate to answer: ‘Good for them, get ready to pay more at the grocery store,’” CBS News continued. Florida could stand to see other economic blowback. While still very early, there’ve also been social media discussions of a possible trucker boycott led by Latino truckers who transport food and other goods to and from Florida.
“In one of the videos, a trucker said in Spanish: ‘Truckers, don’t enter the state of Florida. Let’s be united as Latinos in defense of our Latin American brothers who are being assaulted by this very stupid law, which incites hatred and discrimination…My truck won’t move. Don’t enter Florida. Nobody enter Florida,” Newsweek reported. The article notes support from New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who wrote that “[a]nti-immigrant policies reap what they sow.”
“DeSantis’ Florida is about to find that out,” she continued. “The US has such deep needs right now, particularly in labor. Yet policymakers (of ALL stripes) take our immigrant communities for granted. No más. Time to stop biting the hands that feed.”
Here’s one (in Spanish): pic.twitter.com/KJKRolszXQ
— Arturo Dominguez 🇨🇺🇺🇲 (@ExtremeArturo) May 13, 2023
“Who will continue to work installing roofs, providing janitorial services, restaurant food service, landscaping, residential and commercial building construction, nursing care in our hospitals and nursing homes, and much more?” The Farmworker Association of Florida asked in Spanish-language outlet La Opinión. “Who will harvest the crops we eat every day and depend on for our livelihood?”
While it’s also still very early to tell if the anti-immigrant law had any sort of political repercussions in the elections held in Florida earlier this week, Democratic candidates scored historic wins. In Jacksonville, “former TV anchor Donna Deegan won the officially nonpartisan race for mayor of Jacksonville by defeating her Republican foe, Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce head Daniel Davis,” Daily Kos reported. Davis had been backed by DeSantis. Deegan’s win made her “just the second Democrat to hold this office since the early 1990s.”
DeSantis is hoping his law becomes a big electoral win for him. But it could turn out to be one for Democrats seeking to push back on an anti-immigrant agenda that only stands to have immense human and economic costs across the state. And if the disastrous economic effects of the anti-immigrant legalization in Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia from a decade ago are any indication, DeSantis could be taking Florida for a bumpy ride.