Jaime, originally from Honduras, moved to the U.S. a decade ago seeking a brighter future in Florida. However, the introduction of a new anti-immigration bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on July 1 compelled him to relocate.
“I was forced to switch my job and leave the state,” Jaime shared, opting to withhold his surname for security reasons. Currently, he resides and works in North Carolina’s culinary sector.
“The toughest part is the distance from my family… the financial strain is more intense without them, but staying in Florida was a risk I couldn’t take,” he expressed.
Jaime remains optimistic about reuniting with his loved ones. He’s awaiting a decision on his T visa application, an initiative tailored for human trafficking victims. Both federal and state laws in Florida categorize human trafficking as manipulating individuals into forced labor or commercial sex acts using deception, coercion, or force. This act is deemed by the Florida Legislature as a modern-day enslavement.
The enactment of Senate Bill 1718 last month prompted numerous undocumented immigrants like Jaime to leave Florida.
This legislation, ratified by DeSantis ahead of his presidential campaign launch, has strengthened the state’s stance on immigration. DeSantis has continuously critiqued President Joe Biden’s approach to border security, aiming to capture the Republican base. The law mandates businesses employing over 25 people to use E-Verify, a tool verifying employee eligibility in the U.S. Non-compliant businesses can incur daily penalties until they verify the legal status of their employees.
Additionally, the law fortifies DeSantis’ migrant initiatives and denies financial support to entities offering ID cards to immigrants without permanent residency. It also nullifies certain out-of-state driver’s licenses.
Giulia Fantacci, an attorney specializing in human trafficking in Florida, warns that this legislation can further expose undocumented immigrants to exploitation. Employers may capitalize on their vulnerability, compelling them into tasks beyond their job description. Furthermore, the threat of exposure to authorities can be used as a tool of coercion.
While E-Verify is mandatory, Fantacci notes that employers might still employ and undercompensate undocumented individuals. The pretext is that employers are taking a risk by hiring them, potentially leading to increased exploitation.
Renata Bozzetto, from the Florida Immigrant Coalition, described Florida as a hotspot for exploitative practices towards migrant workers. She criticized Senate Bill 1718 for exacerbating an already fragile situation for workers, claiming it fosters an environment where abuse proliferates.
DeSantis’s spokesperson countered these claims, emphasizing the link between illegal immigration and human trafficking. The spokesperson argued that by addressing illegal immigration, the state also combats human trafficking.
Fantacci disclosed that many of her clients are relocating to states more receptive to immigrants, primarily seeking agricultural and construction work. However, these new beginnings carry their own sets of challenges and potential exploitation.
Despite their status, Fantacci emphasizes that all immigrants have rights. She encourages those who feel oppressed to consult legal professionals who can guide them. The realization that their status might be rectified can significantly alleviate their concerns.