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QUINCY — In the parish hall of a north Florida church, about 100 Latino immigrant workers sat in white folding chairs, raised their hands and patiently waited to ask questions about Florida’s new immigration law.
The event, organized by a concerned community member, brought immigration lawyers and farmworker advocates to the small agricultural town, where migrants supply much of the labor.
Representatives from the Farmworkers Association of Florida drove from Apopka, Florida, and answered questions for about two hours alongside immigration attorneys from Orlando and Tallahassee.
“Can we still go to the hospital?” one woman asked.
“What do we do if we’re stopped by police?” another person asked.
The new immigration law takes effect July 1, and advocates are advising undocumented immigrants to take precautions until they see how the law is applied, especially when it comes to driving in and out of the state.
The new law imposes tough criminal penalties on human traffickers, restrictions on undocumented residents, and new employment requirements that will next year include random audits of businesses suspected of hiring illegal workers.
The USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida spoke to Ashley Hamill, attorney and director of the Family and Immigration Rights Center in Tallahassee, and Yesica Ramirez, an organizer with the Farmworker Association of Florida, who dispelled misinformation about the law and provided advice to immigrants on what to expect come July 1.
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Can I drive into Florida with undocumented immigrants in the car?
USA TODAY NETWORK: Many immigrant families in Florida are a mix of documented and undocumented people. What does the law say about driving with undocumented immigrants in the car?
Hamill: This is in reference to the human smuggling piece of the bill, Section 10, and it says “a person who knowingly and willfully transports into this state an individual whom the person knows, or reasonably should know, has entered the United States in violation of law and has not been inspected by the Federal Government since his or her unlawful entry from another country commits a felony of the third degree.”
You have to know that they entered the U.S. in violation of the immigration law and that they haven’t been inspected by the federal government. If they have a court date, if they are in the process of applying for immigration relief, this should not apply to them. It’s only entering the state, not traveling within the state.
Ramirez: A previous version of the bill said you couldn’t have someone in your car who was undocumented, so there’s confusion. When the law passed, they took this part out. If you’re driving within the state, you can have someone undocumented in your car.
Who’s at fault, the undocumented person or the driver, when you cross over the Florida state line?
USA TODAY NETWORK: When driving back into Florida, who is at fault, the undocumented person or the person driving the car?
Hamill: It seems like it would be the person driving, but the way the law is worded is kind of broad. We won’t know until it’s applied in an actual situation, and that would be an issue that would be litigated in criminal court. Until this aspect of the law is applied, it will be hard to challenge it and to know how the state will interpret it.
The best thing to do right now is to hold tight and wait until it’s safer for you and your family to travel and enter back into the state if this law is something that would apply to you.
Do hospital patients have to admit whether they are a citizen or not?
USA TODAY NETWORK: The new law requires hospitals to ask admitted patients whether they are in the country lawfully. If someone is undocumented, can they still go to the hospital for care? Do they have to respond to that question?
Hamill: The answer is no because there’s no punishment. If you don’t check that off, the hospital doesn’t have the right to refuse care if they accept Medicaid. A hospital cannot discriminate based on someone’s immigration status. This hospital provision is not about immigration enforcement between the hospitals and the federal government, it’s about data collection.
Ramirez: We’re telling people, whatever your status, don’t respond to the question. We want to make it harder for them to indicate who is undocumented.
Can an undocumented immigrant get a green card or a visa if they pay for it?
USA TODAY NETWORK: Some immigrants have said they have been approached by people who say they can help undocumented immigrants get a green card or a visa for a certain amount of money. Is this real?
Hamill: My advice is when you meet with an attorney, you should know their bar license number, and you should be able to look them up to make sure they’re a licensed attorney. They should explain to you what relief you qualify for and the process to achieve that. If your attorney tells you how to get a work permit or a green card without telling you how you qualify for it, that’s a red flag. All immigration relief is hard to get.
If it seems to easy or simple and they’re charging you a lot of money, that’s a sign that it’s not real or they’re going to do something that is unethical. Notaries are also not licensed attorneys in the United States.
Ramirez: You should always consult with a lawyer. There have always been people who take advantage of undocumented immigrants, but now our community is going to be more vulnerable. There will be racist groups and people who will benefit from this law, that’s why it’s important to educate and inform ourselves with the facts to defend our rights.
What rumors and misconceptions are there about the new immigration law?
USA TODAY NETWORK: What are some other rumors about the law that you would like to correct?
Ramirez: The most important thing here is to know your rights. If you go to a business or organization, and they tell you they can’t help you because you’re undocumented, and if you do have the right to be helped, you have to complain. If you don’t complain, there’s no way an advocacy group or lawyers can fight against this law. Know your rights at home, at work or if the police stops you on the street.
There are rumors that if you go to the hospital, they will call immigration. That isn’t true. We are urging people to still go to the hospital when you have an emergency. Also if you’re a victim of a crime, you should still call the police.
Some people are taking their money out of the bank because they’ve heard that on July 1, banks wouldn’t let them access their money. This isn’t true either.
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For more information, visit the association’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/FarmworkerAssocFL.
Ana Goñi-Lessan is the State Watchdog Reporter for USA TODAY- Florida and can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.