Florida’s infamous anti-immigration law, SB 1718, gained national prominence in 2022 when Governor Ron DeSantis transported a group of mostly Venezuelan asylum seekers and migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts as a callous demonstration against the current administration’s federal immigration policies.
Effective as of July 1st, 2023, SB 1718 is already devastating Latinx communities and confusing lawyers and businesses alike regarding how these laws can and will be enforced. The new law—which deviates drastically from federal immigration laws—will not only allocate $12 million for Governor DeSantis’s plan to relocate migrants but it contains several provisions aimed at harming and weakening immigrant families, including:
- E-Verify Requirements: Businesses with more than twenty-five employees will now be required to verify their employees’ immigration status and work eligibility through E-Verify, the federal government’s platform to confirm worker’s eligibility to work in the US.
- Redefining Human Smuggling: Any person transporting undocumented immigrants who have not been “inspected” by authorities could be charged with a felony for human smuggling, whether they knew of the immigrants’ statuses or not.
- Curbing Access to Medical Care: Hospitals that accept Medicaid will now be required to include an immigration question on intake forms.
In my opinion, not only are these laws cruel, unnecessary, and rooted in a racist political agenda, but they will weaken Florida’s economy and workforce. E-verify requirements have already caused worker shortages in key sectors including agriculture, construction, and hospitality. Travel restrictions have created a panic in the everyday lives of undocumented state residents and mixed-status families, families with both US-born and undocumented members, who may now be felons for traveling together. And hospitals, once safe havens and providers of basic human rights, will now be penalized for treating immigrants and forced to jeopardize their patients’ safety and ability to remain in the US.
The Power of Latino Labor
The US Latino labor force is massive and growing. Hispanics made up 17.6 percent of our labor force in 2020, up from 13.9 percent in 2000 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). And Latinos are expected to make up roughly 21 percent of our labor force by 2030 (The Pew Research Center).
In Florida, Latinos and Hispanic people make up 26.4 percent of the population with 27.7 percent of the overall workforce comprising immigrants, most of whom also identify as either Latino or Hispanic (The Pew Research Center).
Across the US, the Latino workforce is the backbone of the economy and often, we work the types of jobs that others simply aren’t willing to do—work that is both physically demanding and critical to the nation’s infrastructure and our daily lives.
Impact on Labor Supply
You have likely watched one of the hundreds of videos showing the state of affairs on construction sites in Florida: vacant, half-built properties with only a handful of workers where there were once many.
Even before the bill’s passing, Florida has been experiencing a worker shortage across several industries, particularly in construction. The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Certified Economic Developer and Director of Research, Dave Sobush, highlighted that there are over 400,000 job openings in Florida and yet only 280,000 looking for work.
As construction lags behind, Florida’s real estate, tourism, and infrastructure will feel the trickle-down effects of this labor shortage and not just in the creation of new homes.
Delayed construction also means that roads and highways will take longer to build, resulting in increased traffic congestion, and fewer hotels and attractions to meet Florida’s surging demand in tourism will lead to fewer vacations booked in the state.
These factors also impact private lending and VC-funding for future real estate ventures. Longer project times means investors will be delayed in receiving repayment on their construction loans, which could cause lenders to halt funding construction altogether and lead to a major economic slowdown.
This isn’t the first time a law like this has been passed. In 2011, North Carolina passed a similar law known as HB 36, though much less aggressive, that also mandated the E-Verify requirement for businesses with more than twenty-five employees.
The law created widespread labor shortages throughout North Carolina, especially amongst farms where crops were loft rotting in the fields. The impacts were so severe that North Carolina then partially repealed the law in 2013 with HB 786 (RECLAIM NC Act). The new bill created an exemption from the E-Verify requirement for several industries, including agriculture.
Approximately 300,000 individuals work on farms in Florida without legal status, constituting roughly 60 percent of the state’s agricultural labor force.
Broader Economic Implications
It is estimated that the most labor-intensive industries in the state would “lose 10 percent of their workforce and the wages they contribute along with them” due to this law, costing Florida’s economy an estimated $12.6 billion per year (Florida Policy Institute). That number would also include a loss of $923 million in state and local taxes as it is estimated that undocumented workers spend 7.3 percent of their income paying taxes.
Kirk Bailey, political director of the ACLU of Florida, noted:
“We’ve seen policies like this fail time and time again in other states. In Arizona, legislators passed a bill that also led to racial profiling and created a ‘show me your papers’ state. Once it became law, it led to a loss of $141 million in direct spending and $45 million in hotel and lodging revenue from canceled conventions, as well as a ripple effect of 2,761 lost jobs, $86.5 million in lost earnings, $253 million in lost economic output, and $9.4 million in lost tax revenue. If this bill becomes law, it will destroy crucial bonds in our communities and our economy.”
While addressing the immigration crisis is urgent and impacting policy solutions will be complex, there is no denying that the oft silent (or silenced) undocumented labor force is an impactful force. This population will continue seeking new jobs and places to live outside of the state with ripple effects across the nation, and the fate of our country (not just Florida) is tied to theirs.
Jennifer Borrero is the daughter of Colombian-Mexican immigrants and is a social impact advocate based in Los Angeles, CA. In 2015 Jennifer began working on international human rights issues in Nicaragua, since then, she has specialized in advocacy for housing and education across the globe. From Nicaragua to the Middle East and domestically, she has run programs in the private and public sectors that focus on creating social change. She tells stories of her experience working on international human rights issues and lessons learned along the way.
Jennifer is currently a member of the Housing and Homelessness Council for Urban Land Institute where she advocates for sustainable housing initiatives. She is also the Vice President of Advocacy for the United Nations Association Los Angeles Chapter and a Global Goals Ambassador for the United Nations Association.
She holds a Masters degree in Healthcare Administration. You can find her running, baking, and surfing in her free time.