When American politicians discuss immigration policy, they often do it – as Jeb Bush did Monday and Donald Trump did earlier this summer in the American Southwest, at the Mexican border.
But immigration is an issue ultimately across America, in the places where immigrants come to live.
And immigration from Mexico and Central America could just as easily be discussed in the farm towns of South-Central Florida, places where many of those immigrants come to work. Towns like Immokalee, LaBelle, Sebring, Fort Pierce and Okeechobee are outposts now for the migrants who come from that part of the world seeking work and better lives – and it’s there, at least as much as at the actual border, that the immigration debate has its consequences.
Immigrants from Mexico and Central America – in the United States legally and illegally – pick citrus, tomatoes, mushrooms, and potatoes all over Florida. They work in the sugar cane industry, and in addition to working harvest and planting seasons, they also have found work in the state’s off-again-on-again construction booms.
And in a state with so many tourists, they also work in the accompanying service industry, from cleaning motel rooms to cooking in restaurants.
This influx of non-Cuban Hispanics, which has mostly occurred in the last 25 years or so, has had a huge impact on Florida politics in areas where the immigration has matured, that is, in areas where Hispanic immigrants have been living for nearly a generation. Some of the immigrants have achieved citizenship and are voting – and in many cases they’ve raised children who are now of or approaching voting age.
The battle for that huge, and still growing, class of voters has been going on between the two parties in Florida for about a decade, and continues to heavily influence elections.
Let’s look at the section of the Political Almanac of Florida on Immokalee, in Collier County.
In the west-central part of the district is Immokalee, its largest town with about 24,000 residents, more than 18,000 of them, or 75 percent, Hispanic. The town, known as the “tomato capital of the world,” could almost be in southern Mexico or Guatemala. Businesses along the two main roads in the city include the Tienda de Guatemala, the Tienda el Quetzal and the Azteca Super Centro, a food store that’s part of a local chain with a couple other area locations. The local party supply store is called Mimi’s Piñatas. … The two Immokalee precincts gave President Obama about 70 percent of their votes….
And from a section on the stretch of Palm Beach County from West Palm to Lake Worth:
The county as a whole has seen a huge increase in Hispanic population, growing by 78 percent between 2000 and 2010. And this central part of the county is where most of that growth has concentrated. …. The influx of Hispanic voters, in particular, but also the increased voting clout of black voters compared to whites, has pushed this district even more solidly into the Democratic column. While Barack Obama won this district by about 30 percentage points in 2008, by 2012 he had gained votes, and defeated Mitt Romney by more than 37 percentage points in the district…..
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about the increased political clout of Hispanic voters in the last decade. And in places like Florida, where those votes are being cast, is where the immigration story is really playing out, more than at the actual border.
The News Service of Florida