"I'm scared. You go out to work and you don't know if you're going to come back," said Gabriela, 36, who lives in Apopka, a town north of Orlando, Florida. She is Mexican and 18 years ago she came with her husband to the United States "without papers." Both worked in the agricultural sector, she growing cucumbers, but now she takes care of an elderly lady.
He works without legal permission, like the multitude of foreigners who are primary labor for the state of Florida in the countryside, in the cities, in restaurants, in construction, in hotels. In a conversation with Clarín from her home, Gabriela – her last name is not revealed so as not to expose it – says that she is very worried and that "if things get uglier" they will have to leave with their four children from the state.
Like her, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants are with their hearts in their mouths these days for the entry into force in Florida, on July 1, of one of the toughest laws in the history of the state and the country to corral those who do not have papers.
The main promoter of this legislation was the governor of the state, the conservative Ron DeSantis, who just launched on Wednesday as a pre-candidate for the presidency for the Republican party and who seeks to extend the "Florida model" to the entire United States if he reaches the White House in the 2024 elections.
The initiative seeks, among several objectives, to prevent with punishments the hiring of undocumented people, something that did not happen before. Companies with more than 25 employees must check a federal database for the legal status of the people they wish to employ. Ignoring that obligation and hiring an illegal alien will lead to very costly fines.
It also provides criminal penalties for people who hide, harbor, transport, or protect those who entered the United States illegally.
It also states that some driver's licenses and IDs issued by other states to illegal immigrants will not be valid in Florida. It also requires some hospitals to request information about patients' immigration status in admission records and increases the maximum fine for employing, hiring or referring illegal immigrants to public or private positions.
Gov. Ron DeSantis pushes for tough rules against the undocumented. Photo: REUTERS
In another unprecedented measure, a person who transports undocumented immigrants in his car can be fined $ 5,000.
The arguments of Ron DeSantis
DeSantis, who is Donald Trump's main competitor internally, has become a leading figure on the American right for his fight against every sign of progressive culture on issues of education, abortion or illegal immigration.
Last week, he accused the administration of Democrat Joe Biden of neglecting the southern border of the United States and defended the new law as a necessary measure to reduce crime and drug trafficking linked, according to him, to the arrival of undocumented migrants.
Civil associations denounce that they are "hostile laws" for immigrants and that they promote racism. In addition, they warn that it will hit the state's economy and tourists will be affected. With about 22.2 million inhabitants, Florida is home to 772,000 undocumented migrants, according to an estimate by the Migration Policy Institute think tank.
David Cruz, National Communications Director of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), the oldest civil rights organization for Latinos in the United States, told Clarín that this moment is "a memory of the worst times that immigrants have seen in this country."
"This is nothing more than a disguise of a racist strategy because we are growing impressively and they don't know how to stop this tsunami. They think they are losing their country. I think what we're seeing from Florida is a preview of what's going to happen in Texas and other parts of the Southwest where racism lives and is having its peak," Cruz said.
"The situation is very difficult. The fear is total," he adds. "Not only if they are people who do not have documents, but the fear reaches people like me, who have the appearance of Latinos. So, whether by real situation or by appearance, all Latinos are running a risk today. All Latinos are afraid. If you're in your car and you're taking your mother or your grandmother and she doesn't have papers now you're going to be guilty of a crime."
LULAC is one of the organizations calling on tourists not to travel to Florida, a way to protest the measures, and they also plan to organize marches in the coming weeks.
"We want people to think before they visit Florida. Even if they have papers, they're going to check everyone and we have that concern. We will not allow or remain silent in the face of an attack as direct as this. What happens is that De Santis' priority is to reach the White House," Cruz says.
A march against the ultraconservative governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, on Wednesday. Photo: EFE
Impact on the economy
The measures, he says, will "greatly affect the economy of the state," which uses a large amount of immigrant labor, and gives the example of Arizona that passed tougher laws and in 4 months lost US $ 141,000 million.
"In Florida, the same thing is going to happen: people are quitting their jobs and they're not reporting because they know there's a risk. I believe that it will be the Chambers of Commerce that will ask the governor to reconsider the measure because it will be a very sad day. I think Florida's economy is going to collapse," Cruz warns.
Consulted by this newspaper, Renata Bozzetto, deputy director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, marked the impact in numbers.
"Immigrants here generate $31 billion in taxes for the state and 000,400 immigrants are entrepreneurs responsible for Florida's vibrant economy. Nearly 000 million immigrant workers are part of Florida's workforce (3%), and even those with regulated immigration status question the risks of living in a state that seeks to curtail our freedom to live and work without fear. We're getting reports that our friends and neighbors are leaving, and that's heartbreaking for our communities and our economy."
An immigrant works in a field in Homestead, Florida, days ago. Photo: AFP
Neza Xiuhtecutli, General Coordinator of the Florida Farmworkers Association, agrees, "This is one of the toughest laws we've ever seen. It is designed to create anti-immigrant sentiment and scapegoat immigrants, as well as racial profiling in Florida," he told Clarín.
In addition, he warns, a lot of misinformation is spreading. "Immigrants are afraid to seek medical care because they believe their personal information will be shared with immigration services. Some people have started or are thinking about leaving the state and this will affect the economy."
The state is boiling. Marches and boycotts will be organized across the country to protest this law. From Houston, Texas, truck driver Manuel Sánchez tells Clarín that a movement of transporters that he promotes is scheduling through social networks that trucks do not enter Florida with merchandise. In addition, they call for June 1 to a day of not buying anything throughout the country.
"We want to give a message to Governor DeSantis and support the immigrant brothers. Without us, neither the state nor the country moves. Without truckers or immigrants, the country does not move. We are boycotting entry into Florida and you will see that without truckers and immigrant labor, your economy will be affected," Sanchez said.
The immigration issue is very divisive in the election campaign. While in Florida the iron fist is imposed, in Washington they seek a consensus between Republican and Democratic legislators on a bipartisan project that strengthens border security, but that opens the way for the legalization of about 12 million undocumented migrants in the US.
Adelys Ferrro, of the organization Venezuelan-American Caucus, speaks to the press, this Saturday, about the law against undocumented immigrants. Photo: EFE
In the meantime, Gabriela says she's going to wait a while, evaluate what to do. "We have known all this time that Florida is a racist state, but until now there were no such harsh laws," says the young Mexican.
He concludes: "DeSantis is doing it because he is going to run as president and he wants to win the vote of people who have no heart. But I am afraid of going out on the street and being arrested, afraid that my children will be left alone at school that day because I cannot pick them up and a social worker will take them. It's hard. I don't know what will become of my life now."