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Migrants, advocates say new Florida law will greatly hurt labor market

A new law will penalize businesses who employ undocumented migrants, and advocates say it'll greatly affect the state's labor market.
Migrants, advocates say new Florida law will greatly hurt labor market
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Mornings in Miami start with a traditional cafecito before Mirella Estrada starts work as a farmworker.

"It's complicated, and the buckets are heavy," she said. "Beyond the hot temperatures, you also must be fast."

The Mexican mother has been harvesting crops for over 18 years under the hot Florida sun, but now her family's future is uncertain.

"Florida won't have people helping with the harvest," Estrada said.

Estrada, along with many undocumented immigrants in Florida, is considering leaving the state in response to Gov. Ron Desantis' new immigration law. Part of the law requires employers with more than 25 employees to use a federal program called E-Verify to check the workers' immigration status.

Advocates are concerned, as impacts loom across Florida's agriculture, construction and hospitality sectors. 

"Some of the persons working in the farms have multiple families. Some of them have documents but others not," said Claudia Gonzalez, organizer for the Farmworker Association of Florida.

Driving through Homestead, 30 miles southwest of Miami, fields are empty.

The farmer of one okra field told Scripps News before the law was signed, he would have up to 20 people working there. Now, that number has gone down to 10 or less. He's now considering reducing his crop production.

The Florida Policy Institute estimates that without undocumented workers, the state's most labor-intensive industries would lose 10% of their workforce.

"It also addresses people that are coming out in and out of the state," said Isadora Velazquez, an immigration attorney.

To put it simply: Anyone caught transporting undocumented immigrants could face legal trouble.

SEE MORE: How Florida immigration law impacts out-of-state driver's licenses

"What we expect is maybe as people start coming into the border and get stopped for other infractions, it could lead to questioning as to who they are transporting," Velazquez said.

And there would be consequences for the resident U.S. citizen, not only for the immigrant. A citizen transporting am undocumented person could face up to five years in prison.

Scripps News asked Florida Republican State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, one of the sponsors of the immigration bill, if the law would be enforced in instances such as bus companies and airlines. In a statement to Scripps News, he said: "Normal bus and airline travel would not apply, unless they were specifically and purposefully smuggling illegal immigrants (those who have crossed the border without a legal reason to be here) into the state."

"A Day Without Immigrants" protests erupted across the state Thursday, calling for a labor strike of Florida businesses in solidarity with documented and undocumented workers. Many businesses closed their doors. Some truck drivers reportedly stopped deliveries in the state, and viral videos online show empty work sites.

Estrada, her husband and two of her children crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Her 14-year-old daughter, her youngest, was born in the U.S. 

She says she's really scared about being separated from her family and that her children don't know anything about Mexico; their home is Florida.

SCRIPPS NEWS' AXEL TURCIOSIf workers like you weren't here, what would become of Florida?

ESTRADA: Nothing, because we are the ones that do the hard work. I've been in this country for 18 years, and I've never seen an American or U.S. citizen picking a tomato in the fields.

The law will take effect July 1. Attorneys and advocates are already saying they will challenge it in court.

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