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Undocumented immigrants, Florida’s new law and Caribbean nationals Loop Jamaica

Statistics show that there are millions of people living across the US who are undocumented, which is itself a group that has many sub-categories, because people come and stay in the country in a variety of ways.

In the state of Florida, as of July 1, 2023 there is a new law that will dramatically affect these persons as well as other stakeholders.

Already, there are anecdotal reports of such “undocumented” leaving the state as they fear for their future.

The new law will restrict the ability of undocumented individuals to live and work in Florida. This is being achieved by a number of sections of the new legislation. State enforcement regarding immigration will now deepen, an area reserved for federal government as immigration law is a federal statute.

There is a requirement for hospitals to collect and maintain patients’ data as it relates to their immigration status. Where hospitals are accepting Medicaid, they must ask, on patient admission/registration forms, whether the patient is a US citizen or if they are lawfully present in the United States. It must also ask if the person is not lawfully present in the US.

The requirement is also that forms have a section stating that the response will not affect patient care or result in a report of the patient’s immigration status to immigration authorities. Patients may also decline to answer and all relevant forms must include an option that states “decline to answer”.

While this is somewhat heartening, it is a fact that many undocumented persons do not seek services, such as healthcare or the assistance of law enforcement, because they feel their immigration status will become an issue and lead to deportation.

Caribbean nationals are well advised to be knowledgeable about these issues and not allow others to persuade them to make risky decisions regarding the US.

The E-Verify system must now be used by Florida employers with over 25 employees. Many persons arrive in the US without authorisation to work. However, they often get jobs across many industries.

Smaller employers often may not use the existing E-Verify system to determine work authorisation. Large employers usually do so, but now the law in Florida is mandating that if there are over 25 employees they must be verified. The employers must show due diligence in trying to ensure such work authorisation and collect such documents for verification. This will affect areas such as fruit and vegetable farmers, construction workers and other groups.

There will also be restricted access to Florida drivers licences and Florida will not recognise the driver’s licences of several states that currently allow persons in the undocumented category to obtain such licences. Florida has published a list of states from which the licences are deemed invalid.

The list will no doubt grow, so it is important to highlight that there are about 20 states that currently offer driver’s licences to people who are in the country without immigration status. In fact, Massachusetts joined the list on July 1, 2023. These licences often have a notation such as “not for Federal identification”, “limited purpose identification”, “driving privilege only”, or even “not valid for identification”.

So it becomes crucial for persons who may have drivers’ licences with any notation to scrutinise them carefully before venturing into Florida. There have even been travel advisories from various groups about travel into Florida. It is the gateway for many Caribbean nationals into the US, so caution must be exercised.

It is now an offence to be transporting an undocumented individual into Florida. This is being called “human smuggling” and is now a felony for a person to knowingly and willfully transport into Florida anyone who you know or perhaps even suspect based on the circumstances entered the US unlawfully in some way.

The law now says, for example, that a lawful permanent resident parent who transports into Florida her child, for example across one of the borders, could face a second-degree felony and up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

Please note that the legislation doesn’t make it a criminal offence to be living with, sheltering, or renting space to family, friends, or other individuals who are undocumented; concealing, harbouring, or shielding from detection undocumented individuals; or transporting undocumented individuals in the state.

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There are families in the US who are mixed-status families, which means that some have lawful authorisation to remain in the country and some do not. An example of this would be a woman who came to the USA on a visitor’s visa, has a child born in the US and has remained in the US. The child is a US citizen, but the mother is now a visa overstay with very limited options to get lawful authorisation to stay.

Interestingly, the new law in Florida also provides that the state can continue to transport undocumented individuals to other states. This is important as there are media articles and even a lawsuit that alleges that many of these persons who have been transported were actually lied to about their destinations and were also allegedly told that they could easily find housing and jobs.

Caribbean people who might be caught up in this need to be very aware of these ongoing situations.

The law has many worrying issues, but one of significance is the fact that there will be both civil and criminal penalties for violations of the legislation. Caribbean nationals are being urged to be very cautious.

*This article does not constitute legal advice and is intended for informational purposes only.

Nadine C Atkinson-Flowers, whose law firm has a free citizenship app that be accessed here, is admitted to practice in the USA and Jamaica. Her US practice is in the area of immigration, while her Jamaican practice areas include immigration and general legal consultancy. She has been an attorney for over 15 years in Jamaica and has written articles for several legal publications. She is passionate about access to justice issues and volunteers with several legal, business, children and community service organisations in Jamaica and the US. She can be contacted at [email protected]