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One Year Later, Florida Businesses Report State’s Immigration Law Inflicted Huge Damage

Florida Businesses (Credits: WAMU)

In the early hours of the morning in Plant City, Florida, agricultural workers are already hard at work harvesting strawberries, the town’s primary crop. Fidel Sanchez, overseeing the operation, instructs his workers to discard the fruit that has fallen and rotted on the ground, a sign of the challenges facing farmers like him.

Nearly a year ago, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis passed SB1718, one of the strictest immigration crackdowns in the nation, aimed at punishing employers who hire undocumented workers and preventing undocumented individuals from obtaining driver’s licenses.

The law has led to an exodus of workers from the state, leaving many local businesses struggling to stay afloat. Sanchez laments the loss of long-time workers and expresses frustration at the government’s apparent indifference to the impact on the agricultural industry.

Ron DeSantis (Credits: Vanity Fair)

The Florida Policy Institute estimates that the immigration law could result in a staggering $12.6 billion loss to the state’s economy in the first year alone, not to mention the loss of tax revenue. Despite criticisms, a spokesperson for Governor DeSantis defends the law as necessary to protect Floridians and asserts that the state can still maintain a strong economy.

However, Ron Hetrick, a senior economist, highlights the labor shortage facing Florida, exacerbated by the departure of undocumented workers. He emphasizes the vital role immigrants play in various sectors, including construction and agriculture, and warns of the consequences of framing immigration as a threat rather than addressing systemic issues.

Gary Wishnatzki, head of Wish Farms, one of the nation’s largest strawberry growers, echoes concerns about the broken H-2A visa system, which has become the primary source of labor for many farms.

He describes the immense financial burden associated with hiring workers through the program and warns of the potential consequences for consumers if the situation does not improve.

Florida businesses say the state’s immigration law dealt a blow (Credits: NPR)

The shortage of workers extends beyond agriculture, impacting industries such as roofing and hospitality. David Crowther, owner of CFS Roofing Services, recounts the challenges of finding skilled workers in the consequences of the immigration law’s passage and advocates for expanding visa programs to address labor shortages.

For many immigrants like Ana Maria Perez, who runs a fruit stand, the law has created a climate of fear and uncertainty. Perez, who came to Florida from Mexico two decades ago, reflects on the drastic changes she has witnessed and plans to leave the state in search of better opportunities.

As Florida grapples with the economic repercussions of its immigration policies, individuals like Perez lament the loss of livelihoods and the toll it has taken on their communities. Despite efforts to address labor shortages, the long-term impact of the immigration crackdown remains uncertain, leaving many to contend with an uncertain future.

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