Florida Grapples With Immigration Issues

Immigrant Rights

America is a nation of immigrants. And America is better off when we try to integrate our recent immigrants so they can begin their journey on the path to citizenship, learn English and contribute fully to our society, not the least of which is by paying taxes.

Unfortunately some people have a different strategy. Some politicians and media talking heads would rather grandstand and pretend that it might be possible to round up and deport the approximately 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in America. Others prefer to force hospitals to deny healthcare and force landlords to deny housing to undocumented immigrants, making life so miserable for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows that they will leave. This will not solve the immigration problems that face America, but it will create more problems for our society, such as homelessness and denying people lifesaving medical care.

While the ACLU does not support illegal immigration, we believe that many laws and public policies that are aimed at illegal immigration are so broad that they threaten the rights of legal immigrants and, indeed, people who may just "look" like immigrants. Many of these laws and policies against immigrants are unconstitutional; they are not working, and they hurt America. Right now current policies deny basic due process in a number of ways:

  • Our government allows legal immigrants to be deported without a hearing for offenses as minor as misfiling required paperwork;
  • Low-level immigration clerks can deport any immigrant they say is here illegally without any oversight;
  • Immigrants -- even those who are here legally -- can be imprisoned indefinitely while waiting for a deportation hearing; and
  • If a hearing is granted, judges have no discretion to consider the individual circumstances of his or her case.

Do we want to live in the America that makes life so intolerable for millions of people? Or would we rather live in an America that brings immigrants out of the shadows and enables them to be taxpaying, contributing citizens?

Human Trafficking

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, traffickers bring thousands of people into the United States each year, and Florida is the second largest site for human trafficking in the country. There are instances of human trafficking across the state, from the motel industry in Fort Walton Beach to cleaning services in Tallahassee, prostitution in Escambia County and migrant farm workers across Florida. This problem is widespread and affects rural communities as well as urban centers.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person, having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude, yet human trafficking is alive and thriving in the United States. Individuals are held against their will and are forced to work for little or no pay.

Not all victims of human trafficking are immigrants. Many victims are exploited because of their poverty or inability to speak English. Many homeless, addicted, abused, and runaway children and adults are potential victims for traffickers.

The greater the awareness, the more likely these cases will be reported and prosecuted. This is an almost invisible crime because the victims are kept out of the public eye. Their hidden victimization allows perpetrators to offend under the radar of law enforcement, making the significance of this crime more important to understand.

Read more about human trafficking and download an informative "Know Your Rights" brochure for immigrants at: www.aclufl.org/immigration.cfm