Floridians worried about future of immigration in the state

'Everyone is scared right now,' business owner Max Mentone says
Posted at 1:24 PM, Jun 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-28 13:25:40-04

MIAMI — Gov. Ron DeSantis promised Monday to secure America's borders if he's elected president in 2024.

It comes after he recently signed new laws addressing immigration here in Florida.

Florida 24 Network reporter Sophia Hernandez went beyond this week's headline to investigate the intricacies of migrant workers in the state and what all this could mean for Florida's economy.

"They are scared right now. Everyone is scared right now," business owner Max Mentone said. "Even the ones who are not illegal are scared right now because they know someone who is."

Mentone is the owner of Paxter Pro, a company that specializes in deep cleaning. His entire employee base is composed of migrants, mainly from Latin America.

Max Mentone outlines how the new Florida immigration law has already impacted his business and employees.
Max Mentone outlines how the new Florida immigration law has already impacted his business and employees.

A migrant himself, Mentone said that he's sad to see many of his workers leaving the state.

"I had a Cuban couple that had been here for 25 years," Mentone said. "Both of them worked for me, but they had siblings who were not legal, so they had to leave the state in order to not be at risk."

He had 14 workers, but now the company has four.

"I am foreseeing that before the end of the year, I'll be down to zero," Mentone said.

He said one reason is the various policies enacted by DeSantis.

On Monday, the governor announced new goals surrounding immigration if he's elected president in 2024. These include ending birthright citizenship and tougher enforcement at U.S. borders.

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"This idea that you can come across the border two days later, have a child, and somehow that's an American citizen, that was not the original understanding of the 14th amendment," DeSantis said.

According to the American Business Immigration Coalition, it impacts our state's 800,000 undocumented individuals and 800,000 mixed-status families.

Earlier legislation passed this year, like SB 1718, targets migrants and citizens who employ migrants and transport them. Mentone said the problem is legal citizens don't want to do this work.

"I came here because I wanted more. I knew I could do more, so I came to the United States to work. Not a lot of people in the United States like to clean. They want to do other work," he explained. "We are Latin Americans in America. We like to work hard. We like to go home at the end of the day. We want to be blessed that way."

Samuel Vilchez Santiago with the American Business Immigration Coalition said it will further harm Florida's economy.

"In Florida, we have an employment rate of 2.6%," Santiago said. "According to the Florida chamber, there are only 61 applicants for every 100 open jobs, and what this law SB 1718 does is it actually targets key industries to our economy, like agriculture, hospitality and construction, that rely on the labor of undocumented immigrants."

Samuel Vilchez Santiago says Florida's new immigration law targets key industries of the state's economy.
Samuel Vilchez Santiago says Florida's new immigration law targets key industries of the state's economy.

According to Santiago, there are 400,000 undocumented migrants in six key industries in the state. And in these industries, migrants make annually $12.6 billion. Santiago said for our state, the loss of those migrants means a loss of revenue and tax revenue.

"I think it's simple. If the employer has to spend more money on hiring more people, so recruitment, or higher salaries because they can no longer employ the current labor they are implying," he continued, "what that means is Florida consumers, the 23 million of us, will likely see the prices of food go up."

And not just food but industries like Mentone's.

"I also don't see the state of Florida missing me, which is a shame because I have a good work ethic," Mentone said. "Everybody that I hire and work with also has an extremely high level of work ethic, and they are like, 'We are going to get rid of you,'" Mentone said.

Santiago said businesses do have a federal option. It's a policy called H-2A.

It allows agricultural employers to hire workers from other countries seasonally, but it comes with problems. Santiago shared it's more costly for businesses, applications are slow, and there is no promise of citizenship for the workers.

As for Mentone, he's worried about what further policy changes could lead to.

"I was thinking of investing in my company here in Florida, investing in more vans," he said. "And any expenditure I was planning on doing in this second semester has been halted. And if I'm the little guy, and I'm halting my investments here because of the uncertainty, imagine the big guys, so I think overall it's really bad for Florida right now."