MIAMI — “The Fight for Immigrants’ Rights Is in the Interests of All Working People” was the title of the Aug. 19 Militant Labor Forum here, called to protest Florida law SB 1718, which took effect July 1. On the panel were Sonia Moreno from the Florida Immigrant Coalition; Winnie Tang, vice president of the Asian American Federation of Florida; and Steve Warshell of the Socialist Workers Party.
The new law makes it a felony to “knowingly and willfully” transport into Florida a person who has illegally entered the U.S.; prohibits drivers from using driver’s licenses available for undocumented immigrants in some states; and makes it a felony for “unauthorized” immigrants to use false ID documents. Beginning July 2, 2024, it imposes sanctions on employers who don’t use “E-Verify,” the Department of Homeland Security’s database.
This doesn’t only affect immigrants.
“We have been educating about the impact on workers — the loss of jobs and separation of families,” Moreno said. “We knocked on doors, organized protests and involved immigrants who are citizens to oppose the law. If a mother without papers drives with her U.S.-born daughters to Georgia, and then drives back to Florida, her daughters can be charged with ‘human trafficking.’ This is unconstitutional.”
“There are 19 states that issue driver’s licenses to immigrants. None of these are acceptable in Florida now,” she said. “Hospitals that accept Medicaid are required to ask patients about their immigration status, so people are afraid to seek medical care.”
“They don’t explain that answering is optional, whether or not you are considered ‘legal,’” Tang said.
She also spoke about another law, SB 264, which targets people from seven “foreign countries of interest,” including, China, Cuba, Iran and Russia. It bans them from purchasing agricultural land or property within 10 miles of any military installation or “critical infrastructure” in Florida. “They want us to see Chinese people as a threat,” Tang said.
“We call it the 2023 version of the Alien Land Law of 1913, which first targeted Japanese farmers in California. They couldn’t own land or become citizens. That law was eventually implemented by at least 15 states, including Florida. We began a 20-year fight in 1998 to get it repealed from the state constitution and were finally successful in 2018,” she said.
Tang explained how Chinese laborers built the transcontinental railroad. “By 1869, 85% of the workers were Chinese, many of whom died, but no Asians were present at the completion ceremony,” Tang said. “The policies of the Republicans and Democrats differ very little if at all,” Warshell said. “In the past 24 months, hundreds of thousands of human beings have been deported from the U.S. The government’s intention is not to stop immigration, but to instill fear among undocumented immigrants and sow divisions among all workers. The bosses use this to keep wages low and impose unlivable hours and working conditions.”
The battle to win the labor movement to “demand an amnesty for all undocumented workers in the U.S. today is needed to advance working-class solidarity,” Warshell said. “It is inseparable from the fight to build, extend and strengthen our unions.”
The defense of constitutional rights is at the center of the class struggle today, he added. “We should oppose all of the government’s frame-ups, from Donald Trump to the African People’s Socialist Party. No matter who the immediate victim, the rulers’ assaults on freedoms protected by the U.S. Constitution will inevitably be directed against working people, unions and political organizations of the working class and oppressed.
During the discussion, Tang described an 1897 Supreme Court decision ensuring the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to noncitizen parents, guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. The case was brought by Wong Kim Ark, a U.S. citizen of Chinese parents. He fought for and won his right to reenter the U.S. after a visit to China. The state had attempted to keep him out under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which wasn’t repealed until 1943.
The forum was advertised on Tang’s weekly radio program, ACE Talk (Asian Caribbean Exchange) and in the United Chinese News of Florida. Among the 17 people in attendance were Flore Latortue from the Haitian Caucus of the Democratic Party and Paul Christian Namphy from the Family Action Network Movement.