How Florida’s New Immigration Law Is Keeping Workers Away from Hurricane Cleanup

How Florida’s New Immigration Law Is Keeping Workers Away from Hurricane Cleanup


Florida is dealing with a double challenge after a black rainstorm, the most serious level of rainstorm warning, caused severe flooding and disruption in the city on Friday. The Hong Kong Observatory recorded more than 150 millimeters of rainfall in an hour, the highest since records started in 1884.

The state not only has to handle the damage and recovery from the storm but also has to manage a new immigration law that has scared away some workers from helping with the cleanup. The law, which was supported by Governor Ron DeSantis and started on July 1, makes it more difficult for migrant workers to live and work in Florida.

The law, also known as SB1718, includes provisions that:

  • If someone “knowingly and willfully” brings someone undocumented into the state, make it a third-degree felony
  • Require businesses with at least 25 workers to use the federal E-Verify system, an internet-based system operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to ensure new employees — people hired July 1 or later — are legally authorized to work in the United States. While E-Verify is not required for those hired before July 1, if an employer learns that a current worker is undocumented, they must fire them.
  • Cancel driver’s licenses issued to unauthorized immigrants in other states
  • Patients’ immigration status must be asked by certain hospitals in Florida

DeSantis described the law as “the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration laws in the country” when he signed it in May. He said the law would protect public safety, public health, and public resources.

However, some immigrant workers, many of whom are undocumented, say the law puts them at risk of arrest and deportation. They say they fear being stopped by the police or being reported by employers or customers.

Resilience Force, a nonprofit group that advocates for and organizes disaster response workers, surveyed over several months this summer. The group found that more than half of its roughly 2,000 members said they would not go to Florida to help with hurricane recovery efforts because of the law.

Saket Soni, the executive director of Resilience Force, said many of the workers see their skills as a calling, as well as a way of supporting their families. He said they are saddened by the fact that they cannot help people in need.

“Sadly,” he said, “you have all of these workers sitting in Houston and in New Orleans, coming to our offices, asking us, is there a chance this law will be repealed? Is there any chance they could go?”

The law’s impact on hurricane recovery efforts could be significant, as Florida is prone to storms and relies on migrant workers for rebuilding and cleaning. According to a report by New American Economy, a research and advocacy group, immigrants make up 24% of construction workers and 31% of building cleaning workers in Florida.

The law also comes at a time when Florida is facing a labor shortage due to the coronavirus pandemic and other factors. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida had about 460,000 job openings in July 2023, while its unemployment rate was 5.1%.

The law has been challenged by several lawsuits from immigrant rights groups and civil liberties organizations. They argue that the law is unconstitutional, discriminatory, and harmful to public health and safety.

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