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Florida's immigration law brings significant unintended consequences, critics say

Immigration law brings unintended consequences
Florida's immigration law brings significant unintended consequences, critics say 02:12

Tampa, Florida — Raquel Lopez Aguilar — a Mexican father of two who is in the country illegally — was working as a roofer in the Tampa area until he was charged with smuggling under Florida's controversial new immigration law.

"I think that it will be difficult to prove the human smuggling aspect of this case," Mark Arias, an attorney for Aguilar, told reporters. "This is a brand new law."

Aguilar is facing four felony counts for driving a group of roofers in a work van from a job in Georgia, along with a misdemeanor count of driving without a valid license.

The new sweeping immigration legislation, signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in May of 2022, prohibits anyone from transporting illegal immigrants into the state.

Among other restrictions, the law imposes penalties on Florida businesses that hire undocumented immigrants, and requires a citizenship question on patient forms for hospitals that accept Medicare. Under the law, Florida also no longer recognizes drivers' licenses issued to undocumented immigrants from other states.

"This is the strongest legislation against illegal immigration anywhere in the country," DeSantis said at the time of the signing.

But after Hurricane Idalia devastated parts of the state in August, some businesses say the law created a worker shortage, slowing Florida's recovery.

Rogelio Rauda, an undocumented worker from Honduras doing construction in Crystal River, Florida, says only eight workers he knows came to the disaster zone out of the hundreds he says typically show up.

"The fear is that someone is going to stop you, ask for your papers, and that you could be deported," Rauda said.

Tim Conlan, who runs a roofing company in Jacksonville, said the same trend is also happening outside disaster zones.
"Historically, though, we've had plenty of crews," Conlan said. "In the last year our crew count has been cut in half."

The law requires businesses like his, with 25 or more employees, to check employees' legal status through a database called E-Verify.  He says it's cumbersome and puts him at a disadvantage with smaller roofers who don't have that requirement.

"I am not a fan of open borders," Conlan said. "But I am a fan of putting people to work in this community who are contributing to the community. There's got to be a way to get them into this system where they get paid a fair wage, and they pay their fair taxes, and everybody gets back to work."

— Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.

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