How are you liking your days without enough immigrant labor, Florida?
The demagoguery of political leaders has consequences — and as draconian state immigration laws take effect and are enforced in the state, employers are learning just how good they had it before Gov. Ron DeSantis anointed himself border czar.
A South Florida no-party-affiliation voter tells me a story that perfectly illustrates business owners’ predicament in a state once a sanctuary for the undocumented, and now imposing one of the strictest anti-immigrant laws in the nation.
He needs to remodel his home’s entire irrigation system, a big job, but the owner of the company he has contracted — a die-hard supporter of brothers-in-prejudice former President Trump and DeSantis — can’t get the job done.
Two reasons for the drama: He has lost almost all of his long-time employers to E-verify, which forces him to send for governmental review the immigration status of his employees — or face punishment that can escalate from a $500 civil fine to jail time for repeat offenders.
Before the Florida Legislature, at DeSantis’ behest, passed the laws that severely punish people who hire, drive or assist undocumented immigrants, the irrigation contractor was simply doing what a lot of agricultural, service and construction businesses do: ignoring the immigration status of his laborers.
Looking the other way. Getting jobs done.
Furious at DeSantis
Now, he and other business owners have lost experienced workers — and they can’t hire any new migrants, either. Not only would many newcomers also fail to pass the status test — but they’re nowhere to be found.
Migrants afraid of being targeted and arrested at workplaces are fleeing Florida for states where they’re better treated and appreciated.
The Republican contractor is furious at DeSantis.
He’s overwhelmed and falling all over himself apologizing for the delays.
And he’s not alone bad-mouthing the governor — and still singing the praises of Trump, who he feels understands him better because he, too, hires foreign workers to operate his resorts, condo towers and golf courses.
What’s playing out in industries all over the state is almost comical, as DeSantis prances around the country grandstanding about crossing into Mexico, if he becomes president, to kill migrant smugglers.
And the bravado isn’t helping him much politically. He’s still badly losing the GOP presidential nomination race, this week losing ground in polls to other contenders.
To be brutally honest, the thought of a smug Republican businessman who voted for Trump and DeSantis sweating it — and now facing the task of himself having to do the hard labor of migrants or lose the job — gives me a jolt of pleasure.
This is what happens when you: 1. ignorantly vote against your own interests; 2. fall for candidates who feed a narrative of fear and loathing for immigrants, thinking it’s not going to affect you because you and your family have status; 3. still believe only a Republican president is going to solve the problems of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua for you and them.
And that vote leaves us with quality-of-life problems in Florida.
Worse, bashing hurts migrant families and mixed-status families.
The recent arrest of a migrant van operator drives home the point that a well-to-do business owner has resources, but for a detained worker facing deportation, the harsh treatment amounts to a stolen future.
What the Mexican consul in Orlando, Juan Sabines, told the Miami Herald about the arrested driver is true: Immigrants coming to work in Florida aren’t criminals, but people who want a shot at a better tomorrow and are in need of work.
They take on hard jobs Americans find undesirable to feed and house their families back home.
I don’t understand the visceral loathing of humble, hardworking people who’ve proven over and over again that they add value to this country — and that their struggle is inspirational.
Ironically, as DeSantis roams the country demonizing immigration — and boasting about what he’s done in Florida to crush immigrants — filmmakers have brought to film the life of one of the nation’s most inspirational migrant stories.
A tearjerker, “A Million Miles Away” (streaming on Amazon Prime) tells the story of José Moreno Hernández, a Mexican child migrant worker who toiled in the fields of San Joaquin County, California dreaming of reaching for the stars.
Inspired at age 10 by the Apollo 17 flight and astronaut Eugene A. Cernan’s walk on the moon, he put himself through unimaginable hard work and education and, with the support of his family and community, he persevered and became a brilliant engineer.
Despite being turned down by NASA 11 times, he trained as a pilot and scuba diver as well to meet all requirements and made it into the astronaut program. He finally set off to space in 2009 as the flight engineer and one of the astronauts on Space Shuttle mission STS-128 to the International Space Station.
He spent 13 days there — a lot of time to star-gaze to his favorite Mexican song.
“Tenacity is a superpower,” Hernández, played by actor Michael Peña, says in the movie.
“Who better to leave this planet and dive into the unknown than a migrant worker.”
And, as if his space exploration wasn’t enough, the film credits tell us that Hernández helped develop, at the Livermore Laboratory where he worked, the first full-field digital mammography imaging system used to detect breast cancer early.
But we, in Florida, mistreat the Hernándezes of today.
Never underestimate the spirit and energy an immigrant, much less that of one who has toiled in the fields and picked your food.
As I watched the movie, I could only feel sorry for us.
Feel better now?