Fifty-five years ago, I took a chance and moved from the Northeast to the beautiful state I still call home. I immediately fell in love with Florida, a place where the sun shined more and the tomatoes grew better. But what I loved most was that it was not only a destination for tourists, or for those who were done with working. It’s where many go to chase their own American Dream.
Florida is for those who carry with them a kind heart and a willingness to work. It has also been a welcoming location for those fleeing violence and poverty, looking for a safer and more opportune life for their family. Lately, though, state lawmakers have lost sight of the beacon of hope Florida has been for generations. They continuously introduce xenophobic policies that would rip apart the fabric of our communities.
The latest attempt is Sen. Joe Gruters’ Senate Bill 168. We must do everything we can to stop it.
SB 168 is an anti-sanctuary-state bill forcing local officials to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in removing immigrants at massive levels not required by law. It would send our neighbors packing at volumes we have never seen before. This bill punishes those who fled violence and poverty by sending them back into harm’s way. It also places a burden on local law enforcement by adding onto their already burdensome responsibilities.
The agriculture industry I work in will be devastated. Florida accounts for 56 percent of U.S. citrus production and ranks second in value of vegetable production. We did not get to where we are alone. Much of our success is a result of the entrepreneurship, optimism and innovative spirit of hardworking immigrants. Policies like SB 168 will drive away agriculture’s labor force and leave Florida farmers without options.
Claiming all undocumented immigrants are criminals highlights either a personal prejudice or misunderstanding of immigration law. It is also misleading. One in five Florida residents is an immigrant, 20 percent of whom are undocumented. Their presence in the United States is not a violation of federal criminal law. Research also shows undocumented immigrants are less of a threat than native-born citizens. This bill will erode the trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities. Furthermore, it can discourage immigrants from reporting crimes in fear of deportation. This legislation is a misguided idea that distracts us from the real issues currently facing our state.
Just recently we were exposed to the horrendous human trafficking violations plaguing our state. SB 168 plays right into traffickers’ hands. They use the fear of deportation to manipulate their victims. They ensure their victims are afraid to talk to the police, or even go to the hospital. If they were to contact anyone of authority, they fear that they and everyone they care about will be deported. This bill, no matter how nuanced the final product may be, gives traffickers another tool to terrorize and enslave their victims.
This legislation is a direct threat to Florida’s warm and welcoming reputation and will deliver negative consequences for years to come. It will ruin our ability to welcome tourists and recruit new workers. It will compromise the Florida we know and love.
Our lawmakers must reject this anti-immigrant bill. The future of our state depends on it.
Paul DiMare is president and CEO of DiMare Fresh. He is co-chair of IMPAC/ABIC.