New immigration bill might cause exploitation and tragedy, says FAU professor

The bill will take effect on July 1, expanding Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposal on illegal immigration that will make it a felony to shelter, hire or transport illegal immigrants into or within Florida among other measures.


Courtesy of Gov. Ron DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ at the Immigration Bill signing in Jacksonville, Fla. on May 10, 2023.

Jessica Abramsky, Editor-in-Chief

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 1718 Immigration bill into law on May 10, which will require employers to use the E-verification system and will make it a felony to shelter, hire or transport illegal immigrants into or within Florida. The bill will go into effect July 1, 2023.

The proposal (Senate Bill (S.B.) 1718/House Bill (H.B.) 1617), sponsored by Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill, Fla., would expose people to felony charges for sheltering, hiring and transporting immigrants lacking permanent legal status. The legislation is part of an immigrant crackdown by DeSantis and his republican counterparts. 

The bill also will require hospitals to collect data on immigration status of patients and regularly submit reports to the Agency for Health Care Administration indicating the cost of care provided to immigrants lacking permanent legal status. It would also repeal a 2014 state law allowing immigrants lacking permanent legal status to practice law in Florida by invalidating out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to immigrants lacking permanent legal status.

Only the southwest border states of Texas, Arizona, California and New Mexico have seen more undocumented immigrants than Florida so far this fiscal year, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. DeSantis and the supporters of this new law have said that the expansive legislation represents a new “step to protect Floridians from reckless federal open border policies.” 

“Being tough on undocumented migrants makes for ‘good’ political theater today, yet is demonizing a group good policy?” wrote anthropology associate professor and chairperson Michael Harris in an email. “In a state like Florida, as in much of the country, I can’t help but be concerned about how the new laws can possibly be functional as good policy, when so much of the economy and so many social relations, in tourism, in agriculture, and in construction, are built on the labor of such groups, when Florida families themselves have members of different migration statuses.”

FAU International Student Services, Student Government representatives and Associate Vice President for Media Relations and Public Affairs Joshua Glanzer, Senator Ingoglia and Rep. Gossett-Seidman did not reply to requests for comment by the time of publication. Staff from multiple FAU departments declined to comment. 

According to the proposed legislation, it would be considered a third-degree felony to transport an immigrant lacking permanent legal status into or within the state, provided that the person knows or should know that the individual entered the United States without inspection. Each individual that is transported or harbored would constitute a separate offense. In Florida, a third-degree felony carries a potential prison sentence of up to five years.

“Imagine what this can do to people like me. I transport families and kids in my car everyday to school or different events with the organization,” said Sister Anna Kendrick, co-founder of the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka, Fla.

The Center is dedicated to stand beside immigrants and those confronting systems of oppression, supporting over 12,000 individuals annually. 

“So all of these proposals are dangerous to the immigrant community and to the non immigrant community that will have a risk of being exposed as criminals,” she said. 

The law mandates that Medicaid-accepting hospitals in Florida must include a question inquiring on immigration status of the patient. With this information, hospitals must provide the state government with quarterly reports detailing the number of visits made by patients of U.S. citizen, lawfully present, and undocumented statuses. They must also send the state legislature an annual report that outlines the cost of uncompensated medical care provided to immigrants without legal permission.

“It’s cruel. People will not go to hospitals. Instead, they will stay home and die because they are not going to expose themselves. It is too much of a scary liability,” Sister Ann Kendrick said. 

Under the proposed bills, the financial penalties for employers who hire undocumented immigrants would be raised from $500 to $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for subsequent offenses. Employers, along with contractors who recruit and refer individuals for employment, would be required to confirm the person’s eligibility to work legally by using either E-Verify or employment authorization documents. 

According to the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), there are approximately 283,000 immigrants lacking permanent legal status who work in the United States as agricultural workers. 

“The agricultural sector in the United States relies on foreign workers; 86 percent of agricultural workers in the United States are foreign-born and 45 percent of all US agricultural workers are undocumented,” CMS reports.

The CMS report states that approximately 71 percent of this population has been living in the United States for more than 10 years, with Florida having the third largest number of undocumented agricultural workers in the nation. 

Immigrants lacking permanent legal status will most likely relocate to states that don’t have this type of bill.  Thereby posing challenges for farmers in Florida who may struggle to find available laborers. 

“Farmers will have to either raise wages in efforts to attract workers or process working visas to bring foreigners to work the fields.  However, the process of working visas takes time so an immediate effect of this bill will be a decrease in agricultural production since there will be a shortage of workers. Consequently, the agricultural industry will be negatively impacted by this bill,” said Monica Escaleras, FAU economics department chair and professor.

Carol Dover, the President and CEO of Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, declared in 2018 that the industry was in desperate need of workers.

“Our members are constantly telling me they have a labor force issue. If we’re short now, what are we going to do 10 years from now? Our growth is exploding. Growth comes with the pains of labor. It’s just not correct for people to believe immigrants are coming into this country and taking jobs from U.S. citizens,” said Dover.

The exacerbation of labor shortages, which are already negatively impacting economic growth, may lead certain businesses to reduce their services or contract additional work outside of the United States.

“We need to do everything in our power to protect the people of Florida from what’s going on at the border and the border crisis,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Feb. 23.

DeSantis has separately proposed to eliminate the provision that grants in-state college tuition for undocumented students, as well as those who were brought to the United States as children and are beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The law for in-state tuition was enacted back in 2014 by his predecessor, Rick Scott, who is now a Republican U.S. Senator.

“Driving the undocumented population on which the state depends into deeper shadows, into more precarious conditions, cannot benefit our society.  Rather, it increases the likelihood of, and potential for, exploitation and tragedy,” Harris wrote.

According to The New York Times, this state legislation represents the most ambitious state legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration and increasing punishments for those who violate immigration laws. It is the most ambitious legislation of its kind since 2010, when Arizona enacted a law that mandated police officers to request proof of immigration status from individuals they stopped if they had reasonable suspicion that the person may be in the country illegally.

Sofia De La Espriella contributed to reporting on this story. 

Jessica Abramsky is the Editor-in-Chief of the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Jess at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @jessabramsky.