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Bob Dickinson: Stop targeting immigrants, the backbone of Florida’s tourism industry

SB 168 is a threat to our values as Floridians.

Florida State Sen. Joe Gruters recently introduced Senate Bill 168, which forces local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents and target undocumented immigrants in our state.

I have raised my voice in opposition to anti-immigrant legislation in the past, including against “show me your papers” and E-Verify bills last year. SB 168 is yet another iteration of such legislation and would impose unacceptable burdens on Florida businesses and workers.

SB 168 is bad for business and bad for our state.

As I have witnessed during my over 35 years working with Carnival Cruise Lines, immigrants are the backbone of the tourism industry — doing the backbreaking work in the hotels and restaurants that make Florida the world-class tourist attraction it is. In fact, immigrants comprise almost one-third of all workers in the service industry in Florida.

One in five Florida residents is an immigrant, and immigrant workers make up over a quarter of the labor force in our state. Can you imagine what losing even a fraction of these workers would do to our economy and society?

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Businesses would lose thousands of workers and find themselves unable to fill the positions due to lack of qualified workers or low unemployment rates.

A new study demonstrates that if we lost just 10 percent of undocumented immigrants, Florida would be poised to lose millions of dollars in taxes and up to $3.5 billion in state gross domestic product in just one year.

This would have devastating effects across industries, including the tourism industry.

Passing SB 168 sends a horrible message. It drives undocumented immigrants even deeper into the shadows and makes them terrified of anyone in a position of authority, even while simply running errands, dropping their children at school, or during their commute to their jobs.

Driving immigrants out of our community and economy, no matter where the targeting is occurring, has the same outcome: loss of workers, taxes, revenue, and many other non-quantifiable contributions.

Not only would this bill harm our industries and significantly cripple our economy, but would also compromise the safety of our communities.

By encouraging local law enforcement to target immigrants, active contributors to our society, we dissuade immigrants from cooperating with police and reporting crimes that pose real threats out of fear of deportation or adverse consequences.

The legislation is a threat to our values as Floridians.

We have a long history rooted in welcoming immigrants and diversity, and SB 168 would inhibit us from recruiting the best talent and attracting tourists.

Our politicians must reject any legislation which puts our reputation at risk and incurs such significant social and financial consequences that will impact our state for years to come.

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Bob Dickinson is the former CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines and an IMPAC/ABIC board member.

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