MIAMI – There’s nothing so easy, unjust and even cruel than to blame immigrants for our problems.

It is incredible that in 2023, in a country created by foreigners, they are still adopting laws that punish and criminalize the most recent arrivals. And Florida, where I live, is the best example of how not to treat immigrants.

I have lived in Miami for nearly four decades. It is a fascinating and multicultural city that is growing rapidly, in part because of the constant arrival of immigrants. More Spanish than English is spoken here, and seven out of 10 residents are Hispanic. Every time there’s a crisis in Latin America, Miami starts to fill with refugees. And with the energy of all those people who are ready to start from zero.

First, of course, there were the Cubans who fled the dictatorship of Fidel and Raul Castro. Later came the Nicaraguans and other Central Americans forced to flee by war. When drug cartels were setting off car bombs on the streets, Colombians took refuge in Florida. And now that the Maduro tyranny has destroyed Venezuelans and stolen all hope, many of the seven million people forced out of that country are now our neighbors.

With each new wave of immigrants, all of Florida becomes stronger. And it renews itself.

The accents change among the roofers, carpenters and drywall installers who work on the buildings and homes always under construction in Miami, Naples and Tampa. We see new faces among the Uber and delivery drivers, nannies and the uniformed employees of the Orlando amusement parks. The people who clean hospitals in Jacksonville speak Spanish. And calloused hands pick tomatoes and oranges in Homestead and Immokalee.

That’s why it’s so outrageous, and a great betrayal, that Florida has approved one of the strictest anti-immigrant laws in the country. The law (FL1718), signed by presidential hopeful and Gov. Ron DeSantis, criminalizes hiring and transporting undocumented workers and can lead to up to 15 years in prison. The law also prohibits issuing drivers licenses to undocumented migrants, requires hospitals to report the immigration status of its patients, promotes discrimination and generates unjust persecution of people who have suffered much and only want to earn a better life.

I am sure that all the lawmakers who voted for this shamefully anti-immigration law benefit from the labor of the people they are punishing. The food they buy, the houses where they live and many of the services they receive are possible thanks to the work of the undocumented. In the United States, it is practically impossible to live far from the labor of people who don’t have papers. They do everything that legal residents don’t want to do, pay taxes and generate new jobs.

The approval of this law was loaded with hypocrisy. We don’t have to dig too much into the personal histories of those politicians to discover that within their own families there were – or are – people who came to the United States without visas or documents. With the exception of descendants of Native Americans everyone living in the United States has a labyrinthine immigration past. Almost always there’s a relative who slipped in without the proper documents.

To escape from war, poverty, domestic abuse, a dictatorship, gangs or a total lack of opportunities is not a crime, even though Republican state legislators and the governor of Florida want to make it a crime. Th United States has a marvelous history of protection and asylum for those who show a “credible fear” if they are returned to their countries.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” says the poem on the Statue of Liberty in New York. The new Florida law says exactly the opposite. Don’t come, go back, I don’t care what happens to you.

After the pandemic, it is true, we have seen a considerable increase in the number of illegal border crossings. But that is normal, that people fleeing from poverty emigrate to wealthier and more secure countries. With an unemployment rate of barely 3.4 percent, the U.S. economy can easily integrate the new arrivals. In fact, this country needs more workers.

The solution is a decision to legalize the 11 million undocumented people already here and process the new arrivals along the border with Mexico in a rapid and orderly manner. But we have been waiting for a broad immigration reform since 1986 and now, as a new electoral campaign gets underway, there’s no political will in Washington to legalize anyone.

The Florida lawmakers who voted for this brutal and inhumane anti-immigrant law are the best example of how not to treat foreigners. For those of us who are immigrants, or come from immigrant families, the rule is to give the foreigners who come after us the same opportunities we had.

What’s wrong with Florida is that a state that was created and grew with the work of immigrants is now turning its back on them. The saddest part is when an immigrant in your own house shuts the door to an immigrant who arrives later. This is not the same place that embraced me, and a million others after me.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

Image by:David Iglesias under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”