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Florida policy researcher explains how immigrants impact the economy

These workers are harvesting strawberries for Fancy Farms, near Plant City, Fla.
Dan Charles/NPR
These workers are harvesting strawberries for Fancy Farms, near Plant City, Fla.

Earlier this month, Gov. DeSantis signed legislation making sweeping changes to immigration laws in Florida.

Supporters say the changes will help curb illegal immigration, while immigration advocates say it sends a message that immigrants are not welcome in Florida.

According to the National Sheriffs’ Association, illegal immigration is unsustainable from a security and economic standpoint.

Sadaf Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute, breaks down how immigrants impact our economy and how responses to the new law could impact you.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

Sadaf Knight is the CEO of the Florida Policy Institute.
Florida Policy Institute
Florida Policy Institute
Sadaf Knight is the CEO of the Florida Policy Institute.

Impact on the economy and you

Viral videos of people speaking out against Florida’s new immigration laws have some worried about the impact on the economy.

Based on the Florida Policy Institute's research, Knight said these new laws could cost the state $12.6 billion in GDP in one year.

She adds that consumers could feel that loss when they go to the store.

"A lot of the goods and services that you rely on on a day to day basis may become more expensive or may become less available."

But, supporters of the new immigration laws say the bill may bring some relief to residents.

In a statement sent to WMFE, the Federation for American Immigration Reform said, "Illegal immigration costs Florida taxpayers over $8 billion dollars annually, meaning each household has a financial burden of just under a thousand dollars. Those charges come from education, legal, healthcare, and all other fees associated with supporting illegal immigrants in Floridian communities.”

However, Knight said undocumented workers also put money back into the economy.

"Whether or not you have been granted legal status, you're still paying your taxes. And we have an estimate from a few years ago, showing that undocumented immigrants contributed almost $600 million annually to Florida state and local taxes."

She adds that Florida's new immigration laws will have a significant impact on the economy as it creates a culture of fear, which could influence whether people continue to move to the state to work.

"Already we're seeing on social media, and even in news reports, people are just deciding to leave and not show up for work because there is a culture of fear and a chilling effect," Knight said. "Regardless of what it says specifically in the bill, there's the broader implications of how it makes people feel."


According to the Florida Policy Institute, more than one in five residentsin the state are immigrants.

Knight said that represents 21% of the state's population at 4.3 million people.

"In Central Florida as well, we have a significant immigrant population, representing about 15% of the population. And in some counties it's much more. For example, in Orange County, it's 22% of the population."

She adds in Florida, the top five countries where immigrants are coming from are Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, Mexico, and Jamaica.

"We actually have the second highest share of Black immigrants in the United States. New York is the state that has the highest."

When you look at the makeup of Florida's economy, Knight said there is a significant presence of immigrants in key industries.

She points to the COVID-19 pandemic where more than one in four frontline workers in Florida were immigrants.

"These are in sectors like health care, child care, social services, and transit, and all the various different frontline industries."

She adds that the state also relies on 150,000 to 200,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers annually.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.
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