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Floridians worry for labor effects of new undocumented migrant law

A new Florida law will tighten restrictions on undocumented people living in Florida, and opponents worry it'll worsen the labor shortage.
Floridians worry for labor effects of new undocumented migrant law
Posted at 6:42 PM, May 24, 2023

Come July 1, Florida's new immigration law will take effect. It requires companies with 25 or more employees to verify their workers' citizenship status.

Supporters of the law say it's needed to combat what they view as a significant problem with illegal immigration. They also say it will open jobs up to people who are in the country legally.

But opponents worry it will increase a labor shortage in the agriculture, construction and hospitality industries.

"Florida is going to be left without a huge labor force, and that is really going to hurt the state," said Yesica Ramirez with the Farmers Association of Florida. 

"Florida has less than 3% unemployment rate right now. We are actually experiencing a huge labor shortage," said Felipe Sousa Lazaballet, executive director of Hope Community Center. "Here in Orange County, where we are at right now, only 60% of vacant jobs get filled. Before this law was passed, they were completely unfilled, and people couldn't find people to work. Now what we're looking at before July 1, people are afraid to go to work. We are seeing construction sites that are completely empty, and people are not showing up to work in the agricultural fields."

Florida is home to an estimated 772,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Estella is one of them.

"That is what I want the governor to understand: We come here to work the jobs that no one wants to do," she said. "We won't be able to go out to the street comfortably. We will go to work with a fear of being stopped. The uncertainty is scary to me."

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Samuel Vilchez with the American Business Immigration Coalition says businesses and everyday consumers will feel the impact of the new law.

"The politicians here are trying to shift the narrative to show that Florida no longer welcomes immigrants, but what happens is at the end of the day all of us will be impacted by that," he said. "Our food prices will go up when we don't have anyone picking up the crops. Our housing prices will go up with immigrants not building our homes. What we're hearing from a lot of construction folks is that they don't know if they will have the labor necessary at the rate needed in order to keep prices down."

The law also prohibits issuing drivers licenses in Florida to people who are undocumented and invalidates out-of-state drivers licenses for anyone who is undocumented visiting Florida.

Places like the Hope Community Center in Orlando are trying to help those affected by providing information and teaching people about their civil liberties, like what to do if a police officer asks them about their immigration status. Lazaballet said a recent information session had 300 attendees.

"Our phones are always ringing now," he said. "People are afraid, and people are planning to leave the state. Our message is the Hope Community Center is here for you. We've been here for 50 years, and we will continue to be here."

For now, people like Estella say they will continue to work, but she may move.

"This time we are being forced to leave the state, but like I said before, I don't want to leave because I have my job here. My daughter is here. My house is here, and we are rooted here. We would have to start from zero again," Estella said.

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