New immigration law affects Okaloosa County

New immigration law affects Okaloosa County

SHALIMAR — “This law is negatively impacting our local economy, public health and safety, and destabilizing much of our Latino community,” said Grace Resendez-McCaffery, the editor-in-chief of La Costa Latina newspaper, when addressing the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners on June 20.

Holding back tears, Resendez-McCaffery asked the board for assistance as Florida Senate Bill 1718 was about to become law on the first of July.

For many Floridians, the morning of July 1 was a difficult day. In their eyes, progress in the state, in terms of equality, seemed to be heading in the wrong direction.

What is Senate Bill 1718?

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in May. It took effect July 1. With this new law, Florida is now seen as having some of the most challenging immigration policies in the nation. Some of the new regulations include:

  • Employment requirements: Public and private employers with 25 or more employees must now use the federal E-Verify system. If an employer fails to do so, the business will be fined $1,000 daily.

  • Hospitals: A hospital that accepts Medicaid must include on its patient admission or registration forms that a person must identify their immigration status.

  • A driver’s license or permit that was issued out of state to people living in the country will illegally no longer be valid in Florida.

What do supporters of SB 1718 say?

Supporters of the bill say that SB 1718 strengthens the state’s employment requirements. Also, criminal penalties are increased for human smuggling. Transporting people illegally across state lines into Florida is a third-degree felony.

“I just want it to stop. It has to stop,” said Rep. Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville, who had a son killed in a car crash in 2007 with a twice-deported immigrant. “It’s insane if we’re waiting for DC to do something, when we have the opportunity to do this ourselves.”

Statistics within Florida

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 37% of agriculture workers, 23% of construction workers and 14% of service workers in Florida are noncitizen immigrants. The total number of people who are here without permission within the state is about 400,000.

How does this new law affect Okaloosa County?

In her address to the county commissioners on June 20, Resendez-McCaffery said many residents had told her they were being evicted from their homes. Pregnant women have inquired about inducing labor early, fearing they might be separated from their children.

According to Resendez-McCaffery, businesses in the hospitality, agriculture and infrastructure fields employ a significant number of immigrants. Hoteliers have told him that they fear losing their workforce at the height of the travel season, even though some employees have valid work permits.

“They are expecting to lose employees come July 1st. While their employees have work permits and can get through the E-Verify process, they are still leaving because they don’t want to be looking over their shoulders all the time. Concern about losing family members or just the concern that you are in a place where people don’t want you. It’s an awful feeling,” Resendez-McCaffrey said.

Also at the June 20 commission meeting, Joslyn Aguilar, who owns Josy’s Tienda Latina, addressed the board.

She noted that on the morning of May 8, she noticed a “huge change of business.”

“Last year in May, we made $25,000. This year in May, we made $10,362,” said Aguilar. “Due to this bill (1718) being signed, we had to relocate to a new place that we could afford… As a business, we were not prepared for this impact.”

Rice’s Whales: Okaloosa County Commission wary of proposed Rice’s whale conservation plan

She told the board she had to let go of five employees due to her inability to pay them. Truck drivers are unable to bring products to the store, and for those who can bring products, the prices are going up.

According to Aguilar, many infrastructure projects have been paused due to a lack of workers.

Some are starting over

With SB 1718 in effect, Resendez-McCaffery noted that some families are in the process of leaving or have left the area already.

“There are some folks who are not taking any chances. They have left already. People have already sold their homes. Other people are more mobile; they pick up and leave their country (to come here). Picking up and leaving Florida is nothing ,” she said. “I have met people who walked from Venezuela. Walking from Orlando to Atlanta is nothing. They will survive it.”

This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: New immigration law’s effects felt in Okaloosa County

Similar Posts