Advertisement

Florida immigration bill sparks fear over racial profiling, discrimination

Advocates and nonprofits said the legislation could create a hostile and ‘show me your papers’ environment.
 
Protestors rally at Lake Eola Park in Orlando on Monday, May 1, 2023. Hundreds gathered to protest, among other things, the immigration bill working its way through congress.
Protestors rally at Lake Eola Park in Orlando on Monday, May 1, 2023. Hundreds gathered to protest, among other things, the immigration bill working its way through congress. [ STEPHEN M. DOWELL | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published May 5, 2023|Updated May 5, 2023

Isaret Jeffers, a community leader and founder of Colectivo Árbol, has received more than 50 calls and text messages in the last few days from farmworkers, parents and her volunteers.

All are asking the same question: What will happen to them after the bill approved Tuesday by the Florida Legislature is signed into law?

Jeffers, who has been working on immigration and human rights issues for more than a decade, said that for the first time, she has been unable to provide a clear answer.

The only suggestion she could offer? Remain calm.

“There’s a lot of fear in the community,” Jeffers said.

Now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, the bill would expose Floridians to felony charges for transporting people without permanent legal status, and it would invalidate driver’s licenses issued by other states for such immigrants.

It also expands worker verification requirements. Employers with more than 25 workers will need to use mandatory E-Verify to check their workers’ immigration status. If they don’t comply with this requirement and a person is found to be illegal, the employer or business will be fined.

DeSantis supports the bill, but advocates in the Tampa Bay area and community leaders across the state criticized it, saying it’s disruptive, discriminatory and divisive.

“These pieces of legislation perpetuate discriminatory actions toward the immigrant community who simply are trying to do what’s best for their families,” said Nathalie Setoute, an immigration organizer for the nonprofit Faith in Florida.

The bill requires hospitals to collect patient immigration information on admission and registration forms, and prohibits local governments from issuing identification documents. The measure will provide $12 million for DeSantis’ migrant relocation initiative, which grabbed headlines last year for flying migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

Yadira Sanchez, executive director of Poder Latinx, a nonprofit that works each year with a new group of future leaders in states where the Latino vote could be key, said DeSantis is using the immigrant community as a political pawn as part of a potential presidential bid. She said the legislation would encourage other states to follow suit with similar rhetoric and policies.

“Our voter registration efforts are underway in Florida and across various states and we will continue our work of mobilizing voters, informing them of the power that every vote has,” said Sanchez.

Tessa Petit, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, criticized legislators for using communities as “political scapegoats.” Petit believes the bill seeks to create a false border between Florida and the rest of the nation.

Jared Nordlund, UnidosUS Florida state advocacy director, said the bill targets every immigrant living in Florida regardless of their legal status or how many years they have lived in the state. He wasn’t the only one. Kirk Bailey, political director of the ACLU of Florida, said the measure creates a “show me your papers” environment. He called the bill disgraceful.

Jeffers organized an emergency meeting on Wednesday with her followers to discuss the impact of the immigration bill.
Jeffers organized an emergency meeting on Wednesday with her followers to discuss the impact of the immigration bill. [ Facebook ]

Meanwhile, Jeffers, the human rights activist and immigrant from Mexico who visits farmworkers in Plant City twice a week, said she will organize a couple of virtual meetings to address the issue.

Two days ago, she already invited an immigration attorney on her Facebook to respond to questions such as, “What will happen to the people who work in the fields and construction? Can’t they be hired anymore?” or “What will happen to us if we have to take our children to the hospital and provide our information?”

“This is not over,” Jeffers said. “We will fight till the end.”