By Clint Thompson
As if finding an adequate labor force wasn’t hard enough for specialty crop producers in Florida, it will likely become even more challenging starting July 1.
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 1718, it marked a significant crackdown on illegal immigration in the state. But it could also devastate many of the state’s farming operations in the process.
South Florida vegetable farmer Marie Bedner explains.
“The thing is these people have been here and been working, so there should have been some kind of provision to allow them to stay, proving that they had been continually working. A lot of them have kids, and their kids have kids now. It’s going to be very impactful, especially in South Florida,” Bedner said. “We saw it coming down that it was going to happen. That’s why we built the H-2A facility and brought in the workers on the work visa. We did that like five years ago.
“For us, we won’t be impacted, but I do know farmers that will. I have friends in the landscape, nursery business that are totally freaked out. It’s definitely going to have an impact on that area.”
The bill, which takes effect July 1, will require the use of E-Verify for any employer with at least 25 employees. E-Verify is an internet-based system that allows employers to confirm the employment eligibility of their employees.
It will also impose penalties for those employing illegal aliens and requires hospitals to collect and submit data on a patient’s immigration status and the costs of providing health care to illegal aliens.
“From what I’ve heard from the other companies, the employees are scared, and they’re going to move on to somewhere else, one of the states that does not have the E-Verify; especially since it also covers if they go to the hospital,” Bedner said. “Hospitals have to report, so that’s going to be a huge thing. The ones that are undocumented are not going to seek any kind of medical help.”
Labor tops the list of concerns for most Florida growers. This new rule will not help matters.
“It’s hard enough to get the people to do this job. This is just going to make it even harder and more difficult to get. You’re going to have a lot more producers that are going to go out of business because they don’t have the workforce. It’s going to impact the prices of the vegetables that make it to market. The consumers are going to pay more,” Bedner said.