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The protests against new, strict immigration laws in Florida have begun.

In Fort Myers, thousands of protesters marched from Centennial Park and made their way down Palm Beach Boulevard. They marched for 4 miles, ending at a restaurant named El Nuevo Maguey.

They held their signs high and chanted for change. Marchers said new law put them in a system where they cannot be liberated.

Palm Beach Boulevard was closed in waves and both Fort Myers police and Lee County deputies escorted protesters so they could safely march.

Senate Bill 1718 becomes law on Saturday. WINK News reached out to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office, and his office issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon.

“SB 1718 counteracts the effects of illegal immigration on Florida,” read the statment, “a problem willfully enabled by the Biden Administration’s refusal to secure our nation’s southern border. The media has been deliberately inaccurate about this distinction between legal and illegal immigration to create this very sort of outrage based on a false premise.”

You can read the full statement here.

One provision makes it a third-degree felony to transport or harbor undocumented workers.

“We don’t like this law,” Brianda Tapia said. “It’s affecting everybody and it’s like, not right for like to be discriminating others. We’re all equal … we did nothing wrong or nothing.”

The new law cracks down on hiring or helping undocumented immigrants. Another part of the law demands all employers with more than 25 workers verify they are legally allowed to work in the U.S.

Daniel Torres said the measure breaks his heart.

“I would love to see my people going to school, go to college to get a degree.,” Torres said. “Yes our work in the farm and in the construction, but we doing it… We doing it great. that is what makes America great.”

Stephanie, who was protesting, said immigrants came to the U.S. for a better life.

“That’s all they want,” she said. “My mom is Mexican. She crossed the border for me, for a better life, and I came here to protest for others who are terrified about this law that’s going to enter Saturday.”

The law is one of the strongest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country.

It goes into effect July 1 and will require businesses with 25 or more employees to use e-verify to check the employment eligibility of employees. Employers who fail to use e-verify will be fined a $1,000 a day.

It also…

  • Suspends the license of any employer who knowingly employs an illegal immigrant
  • Enhances penalties for human smuggling
  • Provides $12 million to continue the unauthorized alien transport program
  • Bans local governments from issuing identification documents to illegal immigrants
  • Requires hospitals to collect and report healthcare costs for illegal immigrants

The protesters gathered to share their belief that Florida should welcome immigrants, not keep them away.

They marched under 90-degree heat for their moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters.

“It’s really inspiring to see like, my grandma, my grandpa participating in this stuff, that is just inspiring, because they’re standing up for themselves,” said Irma Bautista before the march began, “If we don’t do nothing, we’re all going to be affected, and it’s very sad. A lot of families can be very affected and what our whole group is thinking, it’s going to hurt children. Children that do not have a voice.”

Patricia Narvaez said she is the daughter of two undocumented immigrants.

“It’s horrible the life that we’re living right now,” Narvaez said.

Her fear is that her parents’ fear will only get worse once Florida’s immigration bill (SB 1718) becomes law on Saturday.

“A lot of people did not come because they were afraid to come out of their house too, which is extremely sad,” Narvaez said.

The new law makes employers verify whether employees have the legal right to work in the U.S.

It also limits social services for undocumented immigrants. The law also allocates $12 million of tax-payer money to Florida’s Migrant Relocation Program.

DeSantis ordered flights that took migrants from Texas to Massachusetts and California last year.

“It just makes me sad because in my town….literally in Immokalee, Florida, it’s now empty because all of the people are leaving,” Stephanie Murillo said, another protestor.

For Narvaez and Murillo, they hope the simple walk will be the spark that leads to change for hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers in Florida.

Tapia, like many others, hopes their voices make a difference.

“I really do,” she said.

Stay tuned to WINKNews.com, WINK News App, streaming, and on air for any new developments on this story.

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