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Immigrants brace for new state law and faith leaders stand with them

What's known as SB1718 makes changes with regard to employers, holding driver licenses and companies which get state incentives.

WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7 | By Susan Giles Wantuck
Published June 29, 2023 at 4:00 PM EDT

Faith in Florida is holding a prayer walk and gathering in Dover on Friday to support the immigrant community. This comes ahead of a new law which takes effect Saturday. It makes it a felony to use a fake ID to get a job in Florida.

That and other changes are bringing fear to families with members who are in the country illegally.

The organization's Deputy Director Nanci Palacios said "Everything that's in the bill is going to either criminalize immigrants for working, criminalize people for driving, and criminalize people for simply even coming back into Florida if they make a family trip or a church trip. So all of it is against being able to be here as an immigrant in this state."

When he signed it into law, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for president, hailed it as the "strongest anti-illegal immigration bill in the nation."

But Palacios predicts it will not only hurt immigrant families, but Florida's economy and businesses which rely on the workforce immigrants provide in the construction industry, hospitality, and agriculture.

"Because this law is enacted, everywhere from being able to have to drive now your family members everywhere because they can't drive—because they don't have a license, to have to take extra responsibility for children who may be citizens who are underage. And we're having to do these protection clinics for families so that they can designate someone to be a caretaker of their child if they are to be deported," Palacios said.

Faith in Florida has put out information sheets for how the law will affect those immigrants.

But Palacios said what is really needed is federal immigration reform, which hasn't happened since the 1980s.

"Yet we have many reasons why people have continued to migrate. And I think that there's also the faith aspect around what it calls us to do, and it's protect our neighbor, and welcome our neighbors, especially when they're fleeing violence, and they're fleeing persecution in their home countries," she said.

Palacios said the idea for the gathering came from a priest, Rev. Rafael E. Martos, who serves the congregation of The San Juan Diego Mission in Dover, where many parishioners are immigrants.

His idea was to take the example of the Catholic Stations of the Cross, which demonstrate how Jesus suffered on the way to his crucifixion—to represent the immigrant experience.

This modified observance would be based on Scripture, such as when Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape Herod. The Florida Walk for Immigration is tomorrow, June 30, at 5 p.m. Participants will meet at 3249 Sydney Dover Road in Dover. And it ends with a service at 3238 San Jose Mission Dr., in Dover.

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