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Hundreds gather in Fort Myers, Orlando, nationwide to protest restrictive new immigration laws

A protest of Florida immigration law was held in downtown Fort Myers on Thursday.
Guy Cicinelli
Special to WGCU
A protest of Florida immigration law was held in downtown Fort Myers on Thursday.

Activities across Florida Thursday as part of a nationwide general strike among Latinos and their allies dubbed “Un Día Sin Inmigrantes” — A Day Without Immigrants — included a large protest march through downtown Fort Myers streets.

That Southwest Florida effort was joined by one in Orlando and in cities across the United States.

A similar large protest was held Thursday afternoon and evening in Immokalee in Collier County.

The actions by immigrant workers and others were in protest to the state’s new immigration law which makes it illegal to transport and shelter undocumented immigrants.

"A Day Without Immigrants" hundreds protest in Fort Myers

Immigration advocates encouraged workers who are undocumented and their allies to take the day off work Thursday and to avoid spending money in order to protest the new law.

Some businesses, including at least one restaurant, were reported closed in Lee County so workers could attend the protest.

Josue Portillo, owner of a Lee County roofing company, said he was at the protest because the immigration law was hurting his business.

"We stopped all the workers today so we could be here," he said as drivers blew horns and other protesters waved flags and chanted.

Portillo said he has lost workers due to the immigration laws. "Some companies I was working for, they are gone. They had to take off. There was no more labor, so they had to find other places."

In Orlando, hundreds of farmworkers and crane operators joined an immigrant worker strike outside Thursday protesting Florida’s new immigration law.

The law, which goes into effect July 1, makes it illegal to transport or shelter undocumented people. It also increases the penalty for hiring undocumented people… and doctors will have to ask patients about their immigration status.

Felipe Sousa Lazaballet director of Orlando's Hope Community Center led the Central Florida protests and called for a repeal of the legislation.

“It is a fight for the soul of this country. We are a people who have come to this country to give our all. Immigrants are not the problem. We are the solution.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis said the new law is needed to curb immigration into the US.

Carolina Wassmer with immigration advocacy group Poder Latinx said the goal of the protests is to illustrate just how important immigrants are to the state’s economy and the Central Florida community.

“One in five Floridians is an immigrant. And we know that our community brings a lot to the table," said Wassmer. "We make sure that our agricultural department, hospitality and we make sure Florida runs smoothly without any problems.”

The protests come on the heels of organizations such as the League of Latin American Citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, issuing travel warnings for Florida for Latinos, Black people, and the LGBTQ community saying the climate may not be altogether safe for individuals from those groups.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you. Danielle Prieur, a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE in Orlando, contributed to this report.