Truckers threaten Florida boycott over immigration law

Calls for suspension of deliveries to and from the state on July 1 spread on social media.
Miguel Vasquez, 54, a truck driver for more than a decade, left, talks to Christopher Mantei, 53, a truck driver with 27 years of experience, at a rest area along southbound Interstate 75 on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Ruskin.
Miguel Vasquez, 54, a truck driver for more than a decade, left, talks to Christopher Mantei, 53, a truck driver with 27 years of experience, at a rest area along southbound Interstate 75 on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Ruskin. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published June 25|Updated June 30

Miguel Vasquez and Christopher Mantei share two things in common: they are truck drivers, and they are worried about an immigration law in Florida that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month.

They are part of a wave of truckers, many of whom are sharing messages and videos on social media from other Latino truckers nationwide, threatening to boycott the Sunshine State when the legislation goes into effect July 1.

The one-day boycott, which organizers say may include thousands of drivers, calls for a suspension of deliveries to and from Florida, one of the states with the highest share of intrastate shipments by value, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The transportation industry in Florida generates more than 99,000 jobs held by heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, federal records shows. But like many other fields, the trucking industry has been diversifying its labor force in recent years by employing more foreign-born truck drivers.

The requirements for obtaining a truck driver certification differ from state to state. In Florida the new law no longer permits reliance on out-of-state driver licenses. If another state issued an ID or license to an individual who was unable to prove lawful presence at the time of issuance, that person would be prohibited from operating a motor vehicle in Florida.

The new law also imposes penalties and restrictions, including felony charges for transporting people without permanent legal status into the state. It requires businesses with 25 or more employees to use a federal database to check a workers’ documentation, and mandates hospitals that accept Medicaid to collect patient information on their residency status.

Mantei, 53, a Florida truck driver with more than 27 years of experience on the roads, said he supports the boycott because he says the legislation can harm the economy. But he isn’t sure what the boycott’s impact will be on the supply chain.

Christopher Mantei, 53, a truck driver with 27 years of experience, poses for a portrait at a rest area along southbound Interstate 75 on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Ruskin.
Christopher Mantei, 53, a truck driver with 27 years of experience, poses for a portrait at a rest area along southbound Interstate 75 on Tuesday, June 20, 2023, in Ruskin. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

“We’ll see what happens but most immigrants that I know are hardworking people, and they’re trying to make a living,” Mantei said. “I’ve never, in the 42 years of living here in Florida, heard of any issues of them causing any trouble that would attract the attention of the law.”

Alix Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association, said in an email to the Times that she is aware of the looming strike from media reports but that she had not heard of any issues that may disrupt the supply chain.

More than 90% of Florida’s manufactured freight by weight is carried via trucks, the Tampa Bay Times recently reported. Some common freight loads on Florida’s roads include manufactured products, processed foods, citrus and vegetables, vehicles, and electrical equipment. Even the briefest of boycotts could cause ripples in an industry that the Florida Trucking Association and the American Transportation Research Institute say moves more than 470,000 tons of goods per day and serves more than 80% of communities in the state that exclusively rely on truckload services.

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Supporters of the law say it will stop an influx of illegal immigration, while critics said it would harm all types of people, including citizens and families with mixed immigration status.

Collecting patient immigration information in Medicaid-accepting hospitals could have serious implications. Not only can it cause emotional distress, fear and anxiety, it also may discourage undocumented families from seeking healthcare for themselves and even their U.S.-born children, according to a recent KFF Policy Watch analysis.

Jonathan Torres, a local entrepreneur, supports the law. He said it will prevent certain businesses from gaining advantage by hiring workers without proper documents and paying them less than the minimum wage.

“For legal employees, this will secure and potentially increase their salaries, as well as strengthen the employment protections they have, depending on the industry in which they work,” said Torres, 43.

Arturo Dominguez, a freelance journalist, said the boycott will draw attention to the many families that are displaced out of fear. Upcoming demonstrations could turn into something big, he said, such as a caravan from California headed to Tallahassee.

“The nature of how these protests are being put together makes them harder to keep tabs on but they seem to be effective,” Dominguez said. “There are protests being organized all over the country. I keep seeing more local actions showing up seemingly every day.”

Dominguez has been one of those who have closely followed the truckers’ protest on social media. A series of posts on his Twitter account about the boycott has been viewed thousands of times.

“A lot of what we don’t hear people talk about are documented workers in mixed-status families who are being driven out. Such has been the case when similar laws were passed in Arizona and Alabama more than a decade ago,” Dominguez said in an email to the Times. “While those laws ultimately didn’t hold up to scrutiny in the courts, the damage to immigrant families had already been done. I fear the same is happening in Florida.”

Jose Quintero, 31, a truck driver who travels multiple routes between California and Florida, said the boycott is necessary.

“We have to do this, for us,” said Quintero during a recent phone interview.

Quintero was one of the first to say on social media that truckers won’t haul any loads to or from Florida while the law is in place.

“The law is discriminatory and does not take seriously the work and commitment of immigrants in several industries,” Quintero said.

A son of a Mexican couple and a former farmworker, Quintero got his truck driver license eight years ago. To inspire confidence in others, he started posting videos in Spanish and English on social platforms. He doesn’t have millions of followers, but he has enough to feel like he’s doing something valuable on TikTok, where he goes by @zeekvlogz.

“I don’t know about you guys, but my truck will not be going to Florida at all,” he said in a video that has gained nearly 800,000 likes.

Quintero and other truckers calling for the boycott mentioned the case of Roger Aguilera, a 26-year-old Cuban immigrant and truck driver in Colorado. Aguilera was sentenced to 110 years for the deaths of four people in an April 2019 crash, which was caused by speeding and his truck’s brake failure. Truckers put pressure on Colorado’s Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who eventually intervened and reduced Aguilera’s sentence to 10 years.

“If we all came together as one community for Roger Aguilera when he was facing injustice, I’m pretty sure we can all come together as a Latino community and boycott Florida as a whole,” Quintero said.

Miguel Vasquez is a truck driver from Dominican Republic who typically drives in Florida every week. He said he doesn’t usually engage in matters related to politics but now his perspective has changed.

“If we have to stop working on July 1 to protest against this legislation, I will do it,” said Vasquez, 54. “No question about it.”