Immigration and Abortion in Florida
A Check-In on DeSantis' MAGA Experiment In The Sunshine State
Over the next year and a half the Republican Party is likely to face two ongoing, serious challenges to its already degraded brand - Trump’s escalating legal troubles and growing awareness of his serial betrayals of the country, and the ugliness of the DeSantis new-strain-of-MAGA experiment in Florida.
DeSantis’ core offering to GOP primary voters is that he isn’t just talking MAGA, he’s implemented it in Florida - permitless carry, 6-week abortion ban (a total ban in effect), book bans, taking on Disney and others over “woke,” removing democratic-elected officials from their offices, a new Florida “guard” and starting on July 1st an unprecedentedly aggressive crackdown on immigrants. I think how this DeSantis agenda plays out on the ground in Florida - does it work, is there a political backlash, do businesses close, is the travel/tourism/conference industry negatively affected - could end up playing a significant role in shaping the public’s understanding of the Republican Party next year, regardless of who their nominee is.
We are seeing developments right now in two of these areas - abortion and immigration - that are worth our attention.
First, abortion. The effort to get a repeal of the 6-week abortion ban on the ballot in Florida in November of 2024 got a significant boost this week with the launch of a new non-partisan, heavy-weight group, the Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition, chaired by Donna Shalala, former HHS Secretary and former President of the University of Miami. The early signature gathering is going incredibly well, and while there are many hurdles ahead, this initiative has a very good chance of getting on the ballot next year. Florida-based Hopium subscribers can follow this link and add their name to the petition drive to get the initiative on the ballot.
This interview with the Florida Women’s Freedom Coalition Executive Director Anna Hochkammer does a very good job at explaining the current state of play of this important project:
Next, immigration. Next week a new Florida law which is without question the most aggressive crackdown on immigrants America has seen in recent decades takes effect. The law represents a revival of the “papers please,” self-deportation, attrition through enforcement strategies promoted by the anti-immigration movement a decade ago. The goal is to make the life of undocumented immigrants and their families so horrible that they leave, or “self-deport.” This bill goes way beyond anything that has been tried elsewhere, and it is likely to bring immediate harm to the Florida economy, and will, without doubt, bring clear demonstrable hardship to millions of people in the state.
Googling the Florida law this morning generated the following stories and headlines:
From the various stories, my favorite quote was this one from a Florida tomato farmer:
How can one man pass one law and destroy all these businesses in Florida?” said Williams, owner of Quincy Tomato Company.
“It’s almost like he’s doing it on purpose. I know he’s doing it for politics, but the end results, it’s going to be hard.”
What follows is a Kaiser Family Foundation summary of the bill and its potential impacts:
In May 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill (SB) 1718 into law. Set to take effect on July 1, 2023, the legislation makes sweeping changes to the state’s immigration policies in response to anticipated growth in immigration activity at the border following the end of Title 42 restrictions on border entry that were implemented during the COVID pandemic. Among other actions, the law requires hospitals to collect information on immigration status, creates penalties for hiring undocumented immigrants, expands employment verification screening requirements to all employers with 25 or more employees, invalidates out-of-state drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, establishes criminal penalties for transporting undocumented immigrants into the state, increases funding to relocate or bus migrants to other parts of the U.S., and expands the authority of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to carry out immigration enforcement.
These changes could have far-reaching health and other impacts on immigrant families, beyond the undocumented immigrants it targets. Overall, there are roughly 1.8 million noncitizen immigrants in Florida, including both lawfully present and undocumented immigrants, who make up over 8% of the state’s population (Figure 1). A larger number of Florida residents live in immigrant families, which often include people of mixed immigration statuses, including U.S. born children.
The changes will likely contribute to increased fears among immigrant families, which may negatively impact their daily lives, physical health, and mental well-being. The combination of increased fears and new requirements for hospitals to collect information on immigration status will likely lead families to avoid seeking health care for themselves and their children, who may include U.S.-born citizens, which may lead to negative impacts on health. Given these types of concerns, the American Medical Association suggests avoiding explicit documentation of immigration status of patients and their family members in a health record.
The law also will likely have implications for the state’s economy and workforce, with some reports of impacts even prior to it taking effect. Local food service businesses in the state have reported losing not only long-time employees as a result of the new law, but also customers who are now afraid of going to public places. Agriculture and construction industries have also taken a hit, with reports of abandoned construction sites in the state following the passage of SB 1718. There have also been reports of truckers threatening to boycott Florida.
These impacts may continue to grow given the significant role immigrants play in Florida’s workforce, particularly in certain industries. Almost three quarters of nonelderly noncitizen immigrants work, similar to the share of their citizen counterparts. Noncitizen immigrants make up 11% of the state’s overall nonelderly adult workforce, but they make up higher shares of workers in certain industries, accounting for almost four in ten (37%) of the state’s agricultural workers and almost a quarter (23%) of its construction workers, along with over one in ten of service (14%) and transportation (14%) workers. The impacts of lost workers in these industries may have larger ripple effects through the state’s economy and beyond.
Whatever DeSantis thought he was doing with this immigration bill, its extremism, cruelty and the harm it will bring to the Florida economy is about to become a very important part of our understanding of him, MAGA and the Republican Party more broadly.
As I wrote last week, there is data suggesting that the DeSantis campaign should be worried about how voters across the US are already viewing his extremist Florida agenda. First, at home, Republicans lost Jacksonville last month, long a GOP stronghold. Next, in national Civiqs tracking, DeSantis has seen a huge 20 point drop in his favorability in recent months, and is now coming in at 35 favorable, 55 unfavorable, truly terrible numbers for a candidate who has just launched.
Ominously, Hispanic voters across the US appear to be aware of what he’s doing in Florida, and are already really unhappy with him (these are really awful numbers):
The DeSantis experiment in Florida is one of the most consequential stories in American politics today, and one we will be tracking closely here in the months ahead. For those of you in Florida please sign the petition to get the abortion repeal on the ballot, and encourage others in your networks to join you. We can do this!
Keep working hard all - Simon