It’s the inconvenient truth Democrats and Republicans have ignored about illegal immigration: Americans might not like immigrants crossing the U.S. border illegally. But we all have grown to love what we can get out them.
These are the people cleaning our homes and caring for our family members, doing landscape work in our suburbs and harvesting our produce — which better be affordable when it reaches our Publix. The unprecedented inflation since the pandemic is not the American norm. Having abundant goods and services is.
Florida’s new hardline immigration law, which went in-to effect on July 1, was an unprecedented effort to crack down on the hiring of undocumented immigrants. As the Herald reported this week, the law could worsen an existing labor shortage in the state’s agriculture sector, which relies heavily on migrant labor.
From fall through spring, production of some of the state’s main crops, like potatoes and tomatoes, will ramp up, making it clear whether that shortage materializes and to what extent. Some farmers and farmworkers advocates already are telling stories of migrants who are skipping Florida this season out of fear they could get tangled in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature law.
The new law is a great sell to conservative voters and the news outlets that amp up fear and resentment over illegal immigration. What’s better than juxtaposing images of caravans of migrants crossing the Texas border with DeSantis inking a measure that, among other things, prohibits people from transporting migrants into the Sunshine State? That provision — cruel and punitive — is being challenged in court. It will affect families of mixed legal status who could face felony charges for simply driving their undocumented loved ones into the state.
The law also requires employers with more than 25 workers to use the federal electronic platform E-Verify to determine whether new hires are allowed to work in the country. It requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask patients their legal status on intake forms and makes some out-of-state driver licenses invalid.
The blame doesn’t rest only with Republicans who have exploited the border crisis and legitimate concerns Americans have about it for political gain. Democrats, too, failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform that offers migrants currently in the country a pathway to legal status. It’s been 10 years since Congress seriously considered the issue under the leadership of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” The failure to get a bill through also rests with former President Obama, who had a chance to do it when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.
You can’t tackle immigration with tough laws that risk hurting crucial industries like agriculture without dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Republicans can promise to kick out every person in this country illegally — whether it be through Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” strategy or zero-tolerance policies. Not only is that unfeasible and expensive, it would also expel essential workers from our economy. Unfortunately, talking about the complexity of this problem doesn’t make for good sound bites and campaign platforms.
Hurting small businesses
It’s not the big corporate farming conglomerates that Florida’s law affects the most. Almost three-quarters of farms in Miami-Dade County are smaller than nine acres, and family-owned operations dominate the area’s agriculture sector. Foreigners make up almost 87% of Dade’s farming workforce, the Herald reported.
The federal H-2A visa program allows farmers to sponsor temporarily farm workers to fill shortages. There’s high demand in Florida for the program, with 32,714 certified H-2A positions in the state in the third quarter of fiscal year 2023, the Herald reported. But the program is costly because employers must pay special wage rates and cover housing and transportation. It’s also ripe with opportunity for to exploit migrants.
Florida needs migrant workers, many of whom are in the country illegally. This is the uncomfortable truth that Florida’s new law has exposed. The state and the country rely on cheap migrant labor to sustain our way of life. Without comprehensive reform, cracking down on immigrants looking for work and the massive economic engine that employs them makes Florida look tough, but it’s no real solution.
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