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FL’s Anti-Immigration Law Could Slow Recovery Efforts After Hurricane Idalia

“We can’t risk being deported,” said one person who usually helps with hurricane recovery efforts.

Some new structures stood while some older buildings were splintered after Hurricane Idalia hit Horseshoe Beach, Florida on Aug. 30, 2023.

Recovery and rebuilding efforts in the state of Florida following the damage wrought by Hurricane Idalia late last month will be impacted and possibly delayed because of an anti-immigrant law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) earlier this year that will reduce the number of people working on recovery efforts by thousands.

Senate Bill 1718, which DeSantis signed in May, went into effect on July 1. The law bars the state from providing social services for undocumented immigrants, disallows state agencies or local governments from recognizing driver’s licenses from other states that are issued to undocumented immigrants, and fines businesses $1,000 per day if they fail to verify the immigration status of workers they employ. The law also strengthens and allocates millions of dollars in additional spending to a state program that aims to expel undocumented immigrants from the state.

Because of the law, undocumented immigrants have indicated (to the media as well as to organizations that help rebuild communities affected by natural disasters) that they are worried about traveling to Florida. Many have said they simply won’t do so, in spite of their desire to help with relief efforts.

Saket Soni, director of Resilience Force, a nonprofit that supports workers who respond to natural disasters across the country, described the situation to CNN. According to Soni, 2,000 members of the group will no longer travel to Florida due to the anti-immigrant law.

“They felt very fearful. No amount of money would be worth it if it meant they would be incarcerated or deported,” he said.

The workers have told Soni that they want to help, and are frequently asking about the law’s status. “Is there a chance this law will be repealed?” Soni said the workers asked him.

Cost estimates from Hurricane Idalia indicate that it will indeed require a large workforce to repair the damage. Verisk, a data analytics and risk assessment firm, estimates that the monetary damage from the storm ranges from $2.5 billion to $4 billion. The majority of that damage is likely in Florida.

Several undocumented immigrants in the U.S., who have traveled to Florida in the past to help in similar situations, have said they simply can’t risk returning to the state due to Senate Bill 1718.

“There’s a lot of work, but we can’t risk being deported,” Maria, an undocumented immigrant living in Louisiana who helped after Hurricane Ian hit the state last year, told The New York Times. “We’re staying put.”

“We absolutely will not go. … Imagine being arrested and deported doing work that really helps people. We have families,” Carlos, an undocumented immigrant from Texas who has assembled crews to go to Florida after storms hit the state, told The Times.

“The fear that these migrant workers have is real,” Renata Castro, an immigration attorney with Castro Legal Group, told WFTS in Tampa. “They’re worried that the state of Florida, state troopers, and local police departments are going to be detaining them, not at the job site, but driving to and from work because, particularly during a time of hurricane recovery, the job sites are very fluid.”