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With new immigration legislation, advocates fear it could hurt Florida's labor force

Gov. Ron DeSantis' sweeping new legislation he said is aimed to crack down on migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — As time runs out for Title 42, Gov. Ron DeSantis sweeping immigration laws will take effect come July.

The newly signed bill on Tuesday would mean more penalties for businesses employing undocumented workers. DeSantis said it's in an effort to fight migration from the southern border, blasting President Joe Biden's handling of it.

But opponents said it could hurt Florida's labor force, especially in the fields of agriculture, construction and hospitality.

"Immigrants work very hard for the beautiful Florida," said Isaret Jeffers, the founder of Colectivo ARBOL, which works with undocumented immigrants from Mexico. 

Jeffers said the messages are non-stop when it comes to concerns about the new rules. She said she worries workers will flee from the state over new laws impacting the economy.

But DeSantis during a press conference on Tuesday argued stricter rules are needed. Among them:

  • Expanding requirements for businesses with more than 25 staffers to use E-Verify, a federal system that determines if employees can legally work in the U.S. 
  • The bill also enhances human smuggling penalties along with subjecting offenders to prosecution under the Florida RICO Act, which DeSantis said was a recommendation from the statewide grand jury. 
  • Another part of the bill will require hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on intake forms. The bill also provides $12 million for DeSantis' migrant relocation initiative. 

"At the end of the day, you wouldn't have the illegal immigration problem if you didn't have a lot of people who were facilitating this in our country," DeSantis said. 

Between 772,000 to 775,000 people make up Florida's unauthorized immigrant population, according to 2016 data from the Pew Research Center and the Migration Policy Institute. That makes up roughly 5.6% of Florida's labor force.

The laws are getting backlash from Democrats and other immigrant groups.

On Thursday, a group of immigrant activists spoke out at Hope Community Center in Orlando denouncing the legislation. Among their concerns include fear that undocumented immigrants won't seek care because of the policies in place.

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