For many immigrants in Florida, everyday life has changed radically in recent months and is now characterized by fear.
Some try to only drive for essentials and go to the supermarket less often. Others have stopped taking their children to parks and are afraid to leave them at school. There are people who rarely go out, avoid traveling to other states, going to the doctor, or even closing their business and moving. Many are on high alert after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new immigration law in May.
Considered one of the strictest in the country, the rule criminalizes the transportation of immigrants without permanent residency status, invalidates any form of identification and prevents local governments from issuing them IDs. Hospitals must also ask patients about their immigration status and companies with more than 25 employees must check whether their employees have legal authorization.
Certain aspects of the law are already in force. Others begin to rule later.
DeSantis, who is in the midst of a busy campaign to become the country’s president, signed the bill in hopes of winning the vote of conservative voters and criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for overexploiting the massive arrival of migrants border with Mexico allowed.
“You’re going to see a massive surge of illegal aliens, you have a duty to make sure those borders are secure,” DeSantis said as he signed the bill, a day before the end of federal immigration restrictions in place during the pandemic.
Since then, immigrants interviewed by the Associated Press have expressed that their daily routines have changed due to fear of detention, separation from their families and deportation to their countries of origin.
One woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the risk of imprisonment, said the change in the law made her feel a fear similar to that which led her to leave her country.
“I imagined that we would have a better life and be quieter, but that wasn’t the case,” he said. “There is always the fear that something could happen to us.”
The Honduran woman, a 31-year-old single mother, fled violence in her country with her four daughters in 2021 in search of peace in the United States. She applied for asylum and worked as a painter to support her daughters and her mother, who crossed the border illegally six years ago and has no legal status.
Before the new law was passed, her mother helped her by driving the girls to school. Now she fears the police will stop and arrest her for driving without a license.
“Try not to go out too much and be careful,” he explained.
Because of the new law, the Honduran woman lost her job.
His employer, a Salvadoran who also has no immigration status, abruptly closed his small painting business and left Florida. She thought about leaving but didn’t have the money to move. It took him more than a month to find another job, and in the meantime he survived with the help of friends and family.
There are approximately 4.6 million foreign nationals living in Florida, the vast majority from Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the most recent 2017 Pew Research Center survey, at least 825,000 of them do not have immigration status.
According to the American Business Immigration Coalition, a network of businesses and firms that promote national advancement, about half of these people make significant contributions to the workforce and to the state’s major industries, such as agriculture, construction, and hospitality, among others Immigration reform.
“(The law) impacts their ability to go about their daily lives the way they used to,” said Shalyn Fluharty, an immigration attorney and executive director of American for Immigrant Justice, a nonprofit that provides legal advice to people with limited resources .
Experts like Fluharty describe the law as vague and confusing. They say there are concerns about arrests and criminal charges for people who have no way of knowing the law could affect them, including U.S. citizens who may be driving immigrants without legal immigration status in their vehicles and bringing them into the state.
“Whether (a person) needs to be afraid or not really depends on their unique, individual situation,” Fluharty said. His advice: If you’re afraid, contact a lawyer.
However, the reality is that not everyone can contact a lawyer.
Many have simply changed their way of life, including families in which some members are U.S. citizens and others lack permanent legal status.
Salvador Rosas, for example, was born in Central Florida like his two younger brothers. All three are United States citizens, but other family members do not have legal immigration status. Among them are his parents, who came from Mexico in 1999, and his grandmother.
Before the law was passed, the family traveled once or twice a year to visit their grandmother, who lives in Chicago, about 1,000 miles north. Now both Rosas’ parents and her grandmother fear imprisonment and have canceled all travel plans.
“It’s very difficult,” said Rosas, a business major at the college.
His mother had lived separated from the family in Mexico for years and “now there is a separation between states” within the United States, he said.
And even though Rosas is a U.S. citizen, he also fears imprisonment if he travels with his parents and returns to Florida.
Rosas’ fears are not unfounded: the authorities are already enforcing the new law.
A Mexican man who arrived in Florida a year ago was arrested in August while returning from work in the neighboring state of Georgia. The Mexican consul in Orlando, Juan Sabines, told the AP that police stopped the white van he was driving because its window appeared to be darker than legal.
According to a Florida Highway Patrol report and court documents, the man was arrested and charged with failure to drive with a valid license and multiple counts of smuggling “unlawful persons.”
The police report indicates there were six other people in the vehicle, including a child, but only the driver was arrested.
The arrest echoes the experience of another immigrant who spoke to the AP.
A 45-year-old Mexican man, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of deportation, said a routine traffic stop in 2011 led to him being arrested and later repatriated for driving without a license.
His wife was pregnant and although he returned to his family in South Florida five months later, he was not present for the birth of their second American child.
After the law was passed, he moved with his wife and three children about 1,500 miles northwest to the state of Wisconsin. And he’s glad he’s gone.
“I’m calm, I’m calm, more confident” in Wisconsin, far from Florida, where he was “desperate, pressured and afraid of the police.”
“I won’t leave my family alone,” he said. “I’ve been through it before.”