Undocumented workers face uncertainty as immigration law takes effect in Florida

María, a Florida resident and her husband, say they are afraid to leave the house.

The couple are undocumented workers who only leave home to go to work for fear of deportation.

“Either we’re locked in here or we’ll never come home,” María, who did not want to give her last name, told ABC News in Spanish.

Florida’s SB1718, one of the nation’s strictest immigration laws, went into effect July 1. Individuals who knowingly transport undocumented immigrants into the state could now face potential charges. with felony charges. Florida has also disabled out-of-state driver licenses issued to undocumented immigrants.

Hospitals and medical providers that accept Medicaid will now be required to ask people about their immigration status. These and other features of the law have caused mass panic and fear across Florida, not only among immigrants but also among Floridians.

“We’ve received a lot of emails from Floridians trying to explain the law for their own safety and for the safety of their loved ones. We’ve had someone reach out to us because of this. their partners are not properly documented,” said the Democrat. Anna Eskamani, who represents Florida’s 42nd House district. “We got a lot of questions that were really unique and situation-specific but interspersed with confusion about this policy. Will they be able to drive to work anymore?”

Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican who hopes to become president in 2024, said the law increases penalties for people smuggling. When the governor signed the bill into law, state senator Blaise Ingoglia said it gives the state “the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration law in the country.”

The governor and state senator’s offices did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

The law imposes felony charges against individuals who “knowingly and knowingly” transport undocumented immigrants into the state. Immigrant advocates say this broad description puts a burden on law enforcement officials, who are not authorized to enforce federal immigration laws, in determining whether a person can charged with simply driving an undocumented relative into the state.

“The worry is that this will lead to racism and I think that’s inevitable. How do people enforce this law without engaging in racism?” Paul Chavez, senior supervisory attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The SPLC, ACLU and others have said they plan to file lawsuits against DeSantis, specifically focusing on the restrictions the law imposes on transporting undocumented immigrants into the state.

PHOTO: Members of the South Florida immigrant community demonstrate against Florida's immigration law SB1718, in Homestead, Fla., July 1, 2023.

Members of the South Florida immigrant community demonstrate against Florida’s immigration law SB1718, in Homestead, Fla., July 1, 2023.

Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA via Shutterstock

Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police Department, told ABC News that officers will not stop drivers they suspect are undocumented or may be driving with an out-of-state license without have legal citizenship. He said his department was concerned the law would destroy trust between immigrants and the police.

“Our main concern is that we don’t want our residents to be afraid of calling the police if they are physically abused, if they are sexually abused,” Zabaleta said. “We’re here to do community policy, we’re here to participate in the community. We’re not here to come to you and ask you for documents and papers, that’s not a function. our capabilities.”

But just a day before the law went into effect, Zabaleta admitted his police department was still waiting for instructions from Florida Law Enforcement on how to handle incidents when an undocumented immigrant was caught. currently driving with an illegal driver’s license. state driver’s license.

“We haven’t received clarification on that or confirmation from Florida Law Enforcement, Palmer law enforcement. They say they’re working to get that so we have direction. , because this is new territory for everyone,” he said.

The law also seeks to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers. It requires private employers with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify to determine if a person has a work permit. Employers who do not use E-Verify as required by law may be subject to fines. Individuals who use forged or invalid documents to obtain work authorization may also be subject to criminal penalties.

Tessa Petit, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said many seasonal workers in Florida are questioning whether it is safe to return this year.

“We have partners in Alabama asking us to say what [immigrants]”, she said. “Our agriculture depends on these migrant farm workers, so we don’t know if they’ll be allowed to come back.”

Eskamani said some construction sites reported losing about half of their workforce in June as protesters held “an immigrant-free day” to protest the new law. She has also contacted medical providers to remind them that the law does not require immigrants to answer questions about their immigration status.

Communities across the state have also held “know your rights” meetings to educate people about what to do in similar situations and if they are stopped by the police.

“They don’t need to provide their legal status. They don’t need to answer questions. They can respectfully request the presence of an attorney, whether it’s an immigration attorney or a defense attorney. criminal justice and not having to engage with law enforcement,” said Maite García, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida.

María has attended these meetings and is calling on other immigrants to learn about their rights.

“While we may not have the proper paperwork, we do have human rights and we can claim that we are respected,” she said. “Sometimes laws aren’t enforced when they’re written. Sometimes that’s even worse.”

Edmuns DeMars

Edmund DeMarche is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Edmund DeMarche joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing edmund@ustimespost.com.

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