In May 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill (SB) 1718 into law. Set to take effect July 1, 2023, the legislation makes sweeping changes to state immigration policies in response to expected growth in border immigration activity following the end of Title 42 restrictions on border entry that are been implemented during the COVID pandemic. Among other actions, the law requires hospitals to collect information on immigration status, creates penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants, extends employment verification screening requirements to all employers with 25 or more employees, voids out-of-state driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, establishes criminal penalties for transporting undocumented immigrants into state, increases funds to transfer or bus transfer migrants to other parts of the United States, and expands the authority of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to perform immigration enforcement.
These changes could have far-reaching health and other impacts on immigrant families, beyond the undocumented immigrants it targets. Overall, there are approximately 1.8 million noncitizen immigrants in Florida, including legally present and undocumented immigrants, who make up more than 8 percent of the state’s population (Figure 1). More Florida residents live in immigrant households, which often include people of mixed immigration status, including children born in the United States.
The changes will likely contribute to increasing fears among immigrant families that they could negatively impact their daily lives, physical health and mental well-being. The combination of growing concerns and new obligations for hospitals to collect information on immigration status will likely lead families to avoid seeking health care for themselves and their children, who may include US-born citizens, which could lead to adverse health impacts. Given these types of concerns, the American Medical Association suggests avoiding explicitly documenting the immigration status of patients and their family members in a medical record.
The law will also likely have implications for the state’s economy and workforce, with some reports of impacts even before it takes effect. Local food service businesses in the state reported losing not only longtime employees to the new law, but also customers who are now afraid to go to public places. Agriculture and construction have also taken a hit, with reports of abandoned construction sites in the state following the passage of SB 1718. There have also been reports of truckers threatening to boycott Florida.
These impacts could continue to grow given the significant role immigrants play in the Florida workforce, particularly in some industries. Nearly three-quarters of non-senior non-citizen immigrants are employed, a proportion similar to the share of their citizen counterparts. Noncitizen immigrants make up 11 percent of the state’s overall non-old adult workforce, but they account for higher shares of workers in some industries, accounting for nearly four in ten (37 percent) of the state’s agricultural workers and nearly a quarter (23 %) of its construction workers, along with more than one in ten of its service (14%) and transport (14%) workers. The impacts of workers lost in these industries can have broader ripple effects through the state’s economy and beyond.
Beyond Florida, the Texas State House recently passed a bill currently before the Senate that would create a specialized immigration enforcement unit in the border counties of the states, which include higher quotas of Hispanic residents and noncitizens and have higher uninsured rates and a more limited supply of some health care providers than non-border counties. At the federal level, the Secure the Border Act of 2023, which would limit asylum eligibility, require employment verification, and resume construction of the US-Mexico border wall, recently passed the House, but did not it has a clear path through the Senate. At a time when immigration continues to be a controversial topic at both the state and federal levels, it will be important to evaluate and consider the long-term health and economic consequences of these types of policy changes, given the role immigrants play as part of the national population and its workforce.
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