FL’s DeSantis piles on the hate with immigration legislation


A few 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. Ron 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.

READ MORE: Emboldened DeSantis wants to expand ‘inadequate’ immigration policy he once championed

Xenophobic 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 were 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.

Is he so selfish that he doesn’t see the want ads all over storefronts: “We’re hiring.”

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 post-COVID “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, 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.

READ MORE: DeSantis’ racist vision of Florida calls for a new, overdue civil rights movement | Opinion

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.

A woman, who is part of a group of immigrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, holds a child as they are fed outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Edgartown, Massachusetts. Ray Ewing AP

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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This story was originally published February 24, 2023, 10:10 AM.

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Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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