Floridians gathered across the state Thursday to protest a recently enacted law that imposes restrictions on undocumented immigrants. In what protesters dubbed, “a day without immigrants,” thousands walked off the job to voice their opposition to Governor Ron DeSantis’s approval of Senate Bill (SB) 1718.
In Immokalee, Florida, dozens of businesses closed in support of the protest. Video captured over 6,000 protesters waving flags, chanting and marching in support of immigrant workers and their rights. Similar protests occurred in Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Vero Beach, Fort Myers and Homestead—among other locations.
Beyond Florida, similar protests were also scheduled to occur in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, South Carolina and Texas.
A representative from the Farm Workers Association of Florida (FWAF) told CBS News Miami, “We’re asking people…to not go to work and call their legislators…and urge them to revoke…the new immigration law.”
SB 1718 covers multiple aspects of Florida’s approach to immigration and immigrants. Under the law, employers are prohibited from knowingly employing, hiring or recruiting undocumented immigrants. To ensure compliance, employers are required to verify their employees’ documentation. Any employers who fail to verify their employees face a $1,000 per day fine and a suspension of their business license. If undocumented immigrants attempt to get around the verification requirement and are caught using false documentation, they too, face criminal penalties, including a potential $5,000 fine or five years in prison. The bill also contains provisions relating to “human smuggling” and hospital admissions data.
The Florida Policy Institute reviewed SB 1718 in April, before DeSantis’s approval, and found that the consequences of the law would be severe. The law primarily targets undocumented immigrants and their ability to work within the state of Florida. As it stands right now, undocumented workers make up nearly ten percent of employees in six key industries of Florida’s economy. These industries include construction, management services, accommodation and entertainment services, retail, other services and agriculture.
As the FWAF representative told CBS News Miami, “These are workers who are spending all day in the hot sun. These are workers that do this work that nobody else wants to do.”
At the time of its passage, FWAF referred to SB 1718 as “one of the cruelest immigration bills ever passed in the state of Florida.” Despite the potential fallout, on May 10, DeSantis signed SB 1718 into law, referring to it as “the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration law in the country.”
SB 1718 is only one piece of legislation in a long line of recently enacted laws targeting minority communities in Florida. The situation has grown so dire that Equality Florida, the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the NAACP issued travel advisories for any LGBTQ+, immigrant and black community members visiting the state. All three groups warned that the recently enacted legislation presents a potential threat to community members seeking to visit or move to the state.