Southwest Florida undocumented workers anxious about future with new Florida immigration law

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Undocumented workers across Southwest Florida are preparing for their communities to change once Florida’s new immigration law is enacted on July 1.

In Immokalee, a fruit stand owner wonders if prices will skyrocket once immigrants decide to move on from Florida’s farms for friendlier states. On Cape Coral’s Pine Island Road, a food truck owner is worried about how he will feed his family if customers continue to disappear.

A day after protesters marched from Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers to a Latino restaurant on Palm Beach Boulevard, immigrants like Rosaria Sarath Hernandez said she noticed a change on the heavily-Latino thoroughfare.

“I see less people,” Hernandez told WINK News in Spanish.

Palm Beach Boulevard has long been home to many Latino businesses. Stores, restaurants, supermarkets and food trucks cater to the population.

Hernandez said Florida’s new law is not yet in effect, but things are not what they used to be.

“At this stop, there were a lot of people, but now with the fear, they all left,” she said.

The new law cracks down on hiring or helping undocumented immigrants. Any company with more than 25 workers is required to verify their employees are legally allowed to work in the U.S.

It also requires hospitals to collect and report healthcare costs for undocumented immigrants.

Hernandez said she is not ready to go, and many other undocumented families are still around, but people are anxious, tense and stressed.

At a spot across the street, she said there was a place that used to be a meet-up for some workers in the construction industry. Now, there are not as many people as there were weeks ago.

“People are getting out of here,” Fray Mora Rodriguez told WINK News in Spanish.

Mora Rodriguez has lived here since 2008.

He is undocumented and serves as the manager at a nearby restaurant where business is down.

“Right now, I would say 30% less clientele,” he said.

Undocument immigrants in Florida are worried about what the new state law will do to their livelihoods. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Jose Preceado is a food truck owner in Cape Coral.

He loves his taco-selling business on Pine Island Road. He’s been doing it for 15 to 16 years and wants to continue supporting his family.

He believes Senate Bill 1718 puts his family in jeopardy.

“People live in Florida, they don’t want to stay in Florida, because, I guess the new law coming in,” Preceado said. “Next year, you know, the price of the food is going because there’s nobody to pick it.”

Preceado said he sees the impact of the legislation already.

“All the workers, all the farmers, they affected all of them,” Preceado said. “I mean, like all the watermelon production, like you can see him on the side of the road, it’s destroying everything, because there’s nobody to pick it, like orange, like orange juice, and it was bad. And right now the tomatoes coming on.”

“It’s a big deal. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it. But I mean, it is. It is a big deal. It’s gonna affect us, all of us,” he added.

Alejandra Lara, a manager at a produce stand at Immokalee’s Farmer’s Market, was separated from her husband because of his immigrant status.

“When it comes to separating families, I’ve been there a couple of years back,” Lara said.

She is worried the new law will also have this effect on others.

“Raising five kids on your own, it’s not fun,” Lara said.

Like so many in Immokalee, her family saw the U.S. as an escape. She succeeded in getting to the U.S. legally, but her husband was not so lucky.

They lived apart for five years, she told WINK News.

“When I see all of this, I just go back in time when I was there,” Lara said. “It is nobody’s fault. But we’re just here to work. And it’s hard and nobody understands that.”

Her pain is real. And now she fears it will spread.

“The immigration law that is coming up is gonna separate a lot of families,” Lara said. “It’s going to be really, really tough once the law kicks in. It’s gonna be very hard for all of us to be able to stand and keep our jobs and keep these businesses growing. It’s gonna be really, really hard.”

Lara said she hasn’t seen a mass exodus yet, but about 30 of her family members have fled Florida.

“They all left Tennessee and Georgia. They don’t, they’re not required to have any legal status, and they can work anywhere they want. So it’s, it’s a good option,” she said. “We’re losing so much money and this little business cannot stand up.”

It’s too early to say whether workers will stick around or leave Florida once Senate Bill 1718 becomes law. It’s not prime picking season, so it’s unclear if there will be a less number of workers in the fields. And because of the region’s seasonality, the true scope of the law can only be seen once the season returns.

Back in Fort Myers, Hernandez wonders the same.

“God will have the last word,” Hernandez said.

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