Traveling to Florida a felony? Georgians could be impacted by the new law

ATLANTA — Andrea Hinojosa is an aid worker embedded in rural South Georgia’s immigrant farmer communities.

Through the Southeast Georgia Communities Project, a nonprofit she founded in 1995, Hinojosa has for years driven undocumented farmers to doctor appointments in the Jacksonville, Fla. area, a medical hub for the region. The patients can’t go to the hospital by themselves because they aren’t eligible for Georgia driver’s licenses.

Starting next month, the road trips to Jacksonville could land Hinojosa in jail — a product of a Florida Gov bill. Ron DeSantis signed into law in May, which imposes criminal penalties and steep fines on people who transport immigrants without legal status into Florida. The move, which DeSantis said is aimed at restricting human smuggling, will have significant implications for the South Georgia immigrant communities who routinely cross into Florida for leisure, health care, or family reasons.

“It’s another fear factor that people are going to have to deal with,” Hinojosa said. “I was telling (an employee), ‘I guess our trips to Florida will have to cease.’ You know, we can’t take that risk. We both have families. … There’s nothing we can do about it.”

The new immigration law goes into effect July 1, but Hinojosa said a broad chilling effect is already being felt, with families that have undocumented members canceling Florida vacations.

When one of Hinojosa’s own relatives graduated from a school in Dade City, near Tampa, her sister didn’t make the trip south from Georgia because her husband was undocumented.

“We talk to people about their summer plans. ‘Our kids want to go to Disney World. We want to go relax on a beach,’” she said. “That’s not going to be a reality for them anymore.”

In Florida, immigrant populations have organized protests and work stoppages to signal their opposition to the new law. The national Hispanic civil rights group LULAC issued a Florida travel advisory, as have other groups.

In addition to targeting the transport of immigrants without legal status, the legislation cracked down on private employers hiring undocumented workers. It will also invalidate driver’s licenses issued to undocumented immigrants in other states and it will require hospitals that receive Medicaid dollars to ask patients about their immigration status.

Over the summer, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) had initially planned to celebrate its annual conference in the panhandle town of Laguna Beach, Fla. After the immigration bill’s passing, the Atlanta-based nonprofit and advocacy group were cancelled. Its roughly 200 members will now meet in-state.

Adelina Nicholls, GLAHR’s executive director, says she is aware that many of Florida’s new restrictions on undocumented immigrants will be difficult to enforce and face likely legal changes. She is more worried about a general culture shift among law enforcement tied to the law’s passing, with local police potentially engaging in racial profiling. Nicolls is also concerned other states could attempt to follow Florida’s lead.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if some provisions of the law or even the whole thing was introduced at the next legislative session here in the state of Georgia,” he said.

On social media, GLAHR put out a warning to “think twice before stepping foot in Florida.”

Nicholls says the movement to “boycott Florida” is meant to both keep immigrants safe and economically sanction the Sunshine State.

“One of the biggest tools we have in the fight for the civil rights of the immigrant community is our economic power, our labor,” she said.

Over in South Georgia, resources have been drying up for Hinojosa’s organization. The nonprofit, which once boasted a staff of 14, is now down to one employee, aside from Hinojosa herself.

Approaching age 60, Hinojosa said it is difficult for her to envision a future for her non-profit, especially as aspects of the job are becoming criminalized.

“That’s the last thing we need to worry about,” she said of the new Florida bill. In the past, “I was still trying to take on all these issues and fighting … We don’t have that energy anymore. We don’t want anybody to get in trouble.”

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