The Day

Florida can’t run without immigrant labor


Afew years ago, my neighbors and I hired a young American war veteran, back from Afghanista­n and starting his own business, to install a new wooden fence.

The choice came with all the patriotic feel-good emotions of helping the vet feed his family and launch a new career. But when the actual work was done, his partner in the heavy lifting was a newly arrived Venezuelan refugee.

Left alone to construct and bolt in my fence door, I gave him a $20 tip when he finished. The man broke down in tears and kissed the bill. His gratitude moved me, his struggle all too familiar.

This is the real Florida, not the divisive, xenophobic one Gov. DeSantis peddles press conference after press conference on his road to higher office.

In the latest iteration of his ugliness, DeSantis issued controvers­ial new immigratio­n policy for the state. His legislativ­e proposals crack down on employment practices and most likely will lead, not only to discrimina­tion against immigrants, but also hurt U.S.-born and naturalize­d small business owners.

DeSantis’ draconian employment restrictio­ns also will impact Florida’s agricultur­e, tourism and constructi­on industries — the very ones that fund his political campaigns.

Policy not good business

If Florida immigrants took DeSantis and his hateful agenda seriously — and set off to make a living in perhaps better paying and friendlier pastures in the Northeast — the state’s economy would take a nosedive.

Immigrants account for more than a quarter of Florida’s labor force, according to the nonpartisa­n American Immigratio­n Council. And one out of five Florida residents was born in another country. We’re business owners and employees — and will surely help, for example, rebuild areas in Southwest Florida ravaged by Hurricane Ian.

With his legislativ­e proposals to adopt more restrictiv­e hiring protocols in the private sector, the governor is engaging in dangerous political play.

Talk to hospitalit­y or constructi­on managers, and they’ll tell you the pickings of good employees are slim. When they do manage to hire, people don’t stay on the job long. They’re not up for long hours and hard work. Exasperate­d managers, doing their jobs and that of missing-in-action service workers, end up quitting, too.

No, Florida hasn’t eluded the postCOVID “Great Resignatio­n.”

Yet, the state manages to thrive because it does have a constant pool of people willing to work hard: new immigrants who bring the energy of necessity to the job.

DeSantis, however, thinks it’s more important to harass them and make the state a hostile place for them. He’s outlining for his acquiescen­t legislativ­e soldiers more-repressive measures than already exist at both the federal and state level to discourage employers from hiring the undocument­ed.

E-Verify has been on the books for years. It’s already state and federal law — and enforced.

“Threatenin­g to criminaliz­e the use of E-Verify against employers will undoubtedl­y hurt — not help — Florida businesses and our economy,” said A.J. Hernández Anderson, senior supervisin­g attorney of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, said in a statement.

And there will also be repercussi­ons for law enforcemen­t, he added.

“DeSantis’ political posturing will have a chilling effect on cooperatio­n between law enforcemen­t and immigrant communitie­s, resulting in serious consequenc­es for immigrant families, children and persons of color across the state,” Hernández Anderson said.

Shaping his immigratio­n platform

It’s obvious why the governor is on a high horse that isn’t his to ride, as immigratio­n is federal policy: the unbridled power the GOP presidenti­al nomination represents.

All DeSantis cares about is bolstering his immigratio­n platform, as Republican movers and shakers make 2024 decisions, to look more Trumpian than the champion of immigrant-loathing — even as the former president was hiring them for their cheap labor.

DeSantis’ victims, including DREAMers, whose in-state tuition he vowed to take away, are expendable.

It’s a morally corrupt policy. While so many of us Floridians were safely ensconced in our homes, working remotely during the height of the coronaviru­s pandemic, migrant workers were out there working and putting food on our table, cleaning (and some dying) at our COVID-slammed hospitals.

I repeat: DeSantis isn’t only hurting new arrivals or the undocument­ed he likes to demean, spending millions in taxpayer funds to relocate them to blue states under false pretenses.

Day without immigrants

In his quest for the nation’s top job, DeSantis is also hurting American families — and putting a damper on American luxuries like manicured lawns as he creates what Hernández Anderson called “a surveillan­ce state.”

“Florida is home to millions of mixed-status families,” Hernández Anderson said. “DeSantis’ xenophobic policies place Florida residents — regardless of immigratio­n status — in danger of unfair targeting and racial profiling.”

But that’s DeSantis signature copy-cat Trump politics: targeting minorities to engineer a Florida that’s as white and backward as possible.

Here’s my counter-proposal: Let all of us who were or are immigrants pick a day — an important one, preferably — and take it off from work.

No one shows up to the fields, the hospitals, the constructi­on sites or the newspaper offices to write about DeSantis.

A well-deserved day of rest that would paralyze Florida — and really show everyone what we’re worth.

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