Benjamin Perez makes a living cleaning houses in Miami. He works without legal permission like thousands of other foreigners who make up an essential workforce for the state of Florida. Their future now hangs in the balance because of the recently approved immigration law.
The initiative, promoted by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, seeks, among other things, to prevent undocumented people from being hired.
Beginning July 1, companies with more than 25 employees must check a federal database for the legal status of people they want to employ. Ignoring this obligation and employing a foreigner in an irregular situation will attract heavy fines.
Perez, 40, has lived and worked in the US for two decades, but fears he may no longer be able to do so. Like many people, he left his country of origin, Mexico, in search of better economic conditions. He was a mason until an injury forced him to change sectors.
He now lives in a downtown Miami apartment with his Nicaraguan wife and one of his nephews, Joel Altamirano. All three work. No one is allowed to do this.
“For those of us who come without documents, instead of wanting to work, the path to finding a job narrows,” laments Perez, who asked to use a pseudonym for fear of immigration services.
“The American dream is nothing more than that, a dream,” he says. “The government troubles us more every day. This time the treatment is without mercy. We’re practically useless now.”
In Florida, a state of about 22.2 million residents, 772,000 undocumented immigrants live, according to an estimate by the Migration Policy Institute think tank.
Many of them work in sectors essential to the state’s economy, such as agriculture, construction and hospitality.
Preventing them from doing so would have dire economic consequences, warned Samuel Vilchez, Florida director of the American Business Immigration Coalition, a business association that advocates for better integration of immigrants into the economy.
“It attacks our companies and prevents them from creating new jobs, generating income and providing the services they claim to offer,” Vilchez warned. “It goes against what we know is good for the economy and will have devastating effects for Florida.”
According to the NGO Florida Policy Institute, the new law could generate an annual deficit of US$12.6 billion for the state’s economy by reducing labor, the expenses of undocumented immigrants and the taxes they pay.
The uncertainty created by the legal change already has consequences in the workplace, despite the fact that it has not yet come into force and does not require foreigners with irregular status to report their presence.
“Many people have migrated in the company where I work, they have moved from one state to another. There is a lot of fear of the law,” says 38-year-old construction worker Altamirano (another pseudonym).
“it is unfair”
Governor DeSantis, who looks set to challenge former President Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican primary, has become a figurehead of the American right for promoting a very conservative agenda on issues such as education, abortion or illegal immigration.
Last week, he accused Democrat Joe Biden’s government of neglecting the United States’ southern border and, according to him, new laws as a necessary measure to reduce crime and drug trafficking linked to the arrival of undocumented immigrants. defended.
Perez and Altamirano deplore the fact that the authorities treat them like criminals and feel that they are victims of DeSantis’ personal ambitions.
The Mexican says, “All the politicians want their share of the cake and we pay the piper.” “We come to work, send money to our families, spend it here, and pay taxes. This is inappropriate”.
If the law prevented them from earning a living, they would have to leave Florida and start over elsewhere in the United States. Customize once more.
As of now, they have no plans to return to their countries. Many relatives depend on their remittances and, in Altamirano’s case, fear returning to Nicaragua to live under the authoritarian government of Daniel Ortega.
Perez would like the country in which he has worked so many hours to one day recognize his presence.
“For the United States of America we do not exist,” he says, but that this country “was built by people from everywhere and I am one of them.”