Op-ed: Senate Bill 168 would hurt thousands of Floridians


  • photo courtesy of the author

As a lifelong Florida resident, I’m proud to contribute to my community every day. I’ve lived in this beautiful state since the age of 8, and as a DACA recipient with many dreams and goals ahead of me, I’m looking forward to building my future here. But a new bill, SB 168, proposed by Governor DeSantis and supported by some misguided state legislators, is putting my future and the future of thousands of other hardworking people like me and our families in jeopardy. SB168 would turn every member of local law enforcement in Florida into an immigration enforcement officer, and with DACA recipients and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders’ lives already in limbo due to the actions of the Trump Administration, this legislation would be a disaster for thousands of our state’s families and businesses.
DACA has extended work authorization and deportation protections to more than 25,000 young people in Florida who came here as children, and most of us know no other country as home. And more than 44,000 individuals currently live in Florida under the TPS program — a lifeline that provides work authorization for people who have been forced to flee terrible natural disasters, war and violence, or extreme poverty in their home countries. But the Trump Administration has worked relentlessly to end both programs, and SB 168 would only compound the uncertainty in our lives.

With the potential for DACA recipients and TPS holders to have their work authorization and deportation protections stripped away, SB 168 would force every local law enforcement officer in our state to waste time checking Floridians’ immigration papers, rather than focusing on true public safety threats. SB 168 means that hardworking individuals who are otherwise contributing to our state and building better lives for their families could be caught in a far-reaching net and deported to countries they may not even remember. Public safety for everyone — immigrants and citizens alike — will suffer, as immigrant communities will stop reporting crimes to their neighborhood police officers for fear of deportation.

Without DACA and TPS protections in place, SB 168 would also mean ripping thousands of individuals out of Florida’s workforce, saddling businesses with red tape, high costs and time wasted to replace otherwise productive individuals. A policy that hurts Florida families, community safety and Florida businesses just doesn’t make sense.

Before the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, I lived in limbo while dreaming of going to college like my friends who hadn’t grown up undocumented. Unable to work, go to school or even drive, I thought my goals were out of reach. Then the DACA program changed my life entirely: After my application was approved, I applied for my driver’s license, started working two jobs and enrolled at my local community college. In 2018, I was thrilled to graduate from the University of Central Florida with a degree in political science and a minor in Spanish in 2018. Now, I’m working toward attending law school and contributing to my community.

Even while living in a time of uncertainty, Florida Dreamers and TPS holders are doing our best to give back to our communities: teaching in schools, serving in the U.S. military, working as nurses and engineers, and attending church alongside our neighbors. SB 168 would hurt thousands of families across the state we love and call home, as well as holding back Florida’s economy. I hope our legislators will reject it, and focus instead on policies that keep families together and make Florida stronger.

Claudia Jimenez Contreras came to the U.S. from Venezuela at the age of 8, along with her 3-year-old sister. She and her sister are both DACA recipients. Before DACA, Jimenez Contreras stayed home for two years after high school because she was unable to work or receive financial aid for university. Under DACA, she is able to pursue her goals. She now feels as though she is in limbo and fears being forced back into the shadows if DACA is repealed.

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