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Florida’s increasingly anti-immigrant policies hurt all of us | Opinion

In last year’s legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis and his allies in the Legislature enacted infamous SB 1718, one of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant laws.

The law harms Florida’s immigrant families by targeting every facet of their lives. People who had come to see Florida as a place with a history of welcoming immigrants were caught off guard, shocked by the law’s extremely punitive measures.

This was an introduction to the trend of cruel, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies that has only grown — producing policies that aren’t merely unnecessary, but also detrimental to the fabric of our communities and threatening to the success of Florida’s economy.

The aftermath of the bill’s passage confirmed those fears. Media coverage highlighted the law’s many negative impacts on immigrants who are disproportionately represented in many key industries, including tourism, agriculture and healthcare — for example, critical workers not showing up to work for fear of being arrested or mothers avoiding prenatal care for fear of being mistreated due to their immigration status.

The current legislative session continued the trend. Last year, SB 1718 banned funding for community IDs. This year, despite demonstrable benefit to local communities of an ID program, one proposal seeks to make the anti-immigrant provisions harsher by banning local governments from even accepting community IDs, which are available to everyone, not just immigrants.

Another example: Even though Florida already prohibits many immigrants from obtaining a driver’s license, a bill proposed this year would increase criminal penalties for all Floridians who drive without a license. This is a strategy designed to trap people who go about their daily lives, taking their children to school or driving a spouse to work, while struggling to find their footing in our difficult immigration system.

These bills reflect a heavy-handed strategy of attacking and dehumanizing immigrants, but they is trap citizens and immigrants alike. Harsh discriminatory policies never stop at their supposed target.

Law enforcement and employers have been incentivized by policies enacted by the Legislature to make racially motivated assumptions about a person’s immigration status. That is why after the adoption of so-called anti-sanctuary policies, lawful permanent residents — immigrants lawfully present in the country and even citizens — have been unlawfully detained.

In Florida, where over 20% of the people are immigrants (and over 425,000 citizens in Florida live with a family member who is undocumented), and many are first or second-generation Americans, people are especially vulnerable to being profiled and targeted based on stereotypes, like whether they speak Spanish or Creole. These laws also foster a culture of bias in which employers hesitate to hire someone due to a presumption about their immigration status, and police officers stop and detain someone based on their appearance.

This is especially problematic when politicians legitimize anti-immigrant sentiment, untroubled by practices that target people based on race or ethnicity.

None of those bills provide guidance to employers or law enforcement about how to make complex immigration status determinations. Under the Constitution, the federal government has exclusive power over immigration. Those who attempt to enforce laws in this sensitive area other than federal government’s specially trained personnel just endanger the public.

Florida has long been celebrated for its diverse communities, where cultures and people from all backgrounds have flourished. The state has benefited — not suffered — from the contributions of newcomers welcomed into our communities.

As a first-generation American, I know this firsthand. After my parents immigrated to Florida from Venezuela, they started businesses, bought property, and set up their children and grandchildren to thrive — all while spending decades navigating the complex immigration system.

The evidence documenting the positive impact that immigrants have had on our state —regardless of their citizenship status — is overwhelming.

Do we really want to live in a world that supports such discriminatory policies?

We should reject policies repeatedly enacted by legislators that target people based on their appearance or what language they speak — policies that, whether stated explicitly or not, harm all Floridians, not just immigrants.

Silvana Caldera is a senior policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.