For many in Florida’s vast immigrant community, daily life in recent months has become one governed entirely by fear.
Some try to drive as little as possible and make fewer trips to the supermarket. Others no longer take their children to the park and worry about allowing them to attend school. Others still are hiding out — avoiding travel to other states, not getting regular medical check-ups, or closing their businesses and leaving town. And many are just on high alert — all because of a new immigration law Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in May.
One of the strictest in the nation, the law criminalized transporting immigrants lacking permanent legal status into the state, invalidated any U.S. government identification they might have and blocked local governments from providing them with ID cards. Florida hospitals that receive Medicaid are now mandated to ask patients about immigration status and businesses employing 25 or more people must verify their workers’ legal status.
Other aspects of the law go into effect next year.
DeSantis, who is running for president, signed the bill in hopes of appealing to conservative voters and has criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for the massive influx of migrants at the southern border.
“You have a duty to ensure that these borders are secure,” DeSantis said at the time, signing the law a day before federal immigration rules enacted during the pandemic ended.
Since then, Associated Press interviews with a dozen immigrants found that daily routines have been upended for fear of being detained, separated from their families and deported.
For one woman, who asked not to be identified for fear of being detained, the change in the law has left her feeling like she traded one world of fear for another.
Before the new law passed, the woman says her mother helped out by driving her grandchildren to school. Now, she is afraid police will ask her to show a driver’s license and detain and deport her for not having one.
“She tries not to go out too much, she is being be very careful,” she said.
The new law also cost the woman her painting job.
Florida is home to about 4.6 million people that are foreign-born, and nearly three-quarters are from Latin America and the Caribbean. At least 825,000 lack permanent legal status, according to the most recent Pew Research Center survey from 2017. And about half of those people contribute to Florida’s workforce and economy in key industries including agriculture, construction, hospitality and more, according to the American Business Immigration Coalition.
“(The law) is impacting their ability to just go about their day like they used to,” said Shalyn Fluharty, an immigration attorney and executive director of the nonprofit law firm American for Immigrant Justice.
Experts like Fluharty characterize the law as vague and confusing, asserting that it raises concerns of mandatory detention, arrests and felony convictions for individuals who have no way of knowing they could be a target, including U.S. citizens who may be transporting immigrants without permanent legal status into the state.