Central Florida farmworkers’ advocates rail against Sabatini, DeSantis amid anti-migrant rhetoric

Advocates respond after online rumors prompt anti-immigrant protests

The Farmworker Association of Florida, along with other advocates for migrant workers, held a news conference Wednesday to call out recent anti-migrant and anti-immigration rhetoric from state Rep. Anthony Sabatini and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“We call this (news) conference to make a position clear about the manipulation of information and protest against a group of H2-A agricultural workers in Maitland,” said Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, the general coordinator of the Farmworker Association of Florida. “We repudiate the organizing against these workers as an act of ill will and hate manipulated by those who seek to benefit from it politically and otherwise.”

The news conference was held several days after rumors spread online claiming that undocumented immigrants were being bussed into Maitland, prompting protests near the hotel where the migrant workers are staying. Among the people perpetuating the claim was state Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R-Howey-in-the-Hills). On Sunday he took to Twitter, demanding that DeSantis use state law enforcement to round up and deport the workers.

“I would like to know how he keeps his house—you know, who does all the plants and all the food that he eats and his family eats. He should do the research himself and find out all the essential work behind everything he consumes,” said Isabel Vinent, co executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “First of all, we don’t use the word illegal. No human being is illegal.”

It should be noted that while Sabatini said the hotel was in his district, his place of residence, Howey-in-the-Hills, is not in the same district as the hotel in Maitland, which is Congressional District 7. Sabatini, however, is running to be representative of District 7.

[RELATED: What is an H2-A visa? How migrant workers are able to legally work in Florida]

“We’re calling on those people who are manipulating information in inciting hate against those workers and immigrants, whatever of their status, to stop the misinformation and pandering to hate,” Xiuhtecutli said. “Far from attacking these workers, we should be thanking them for their work.”

On Monday, News 6 confirmed that the workers are legal with the mayor of Apopka, the city where the migrants will work, and Dewar Nurseries, which has hired the workers. Despite that, Sabatini has not removed his social media posts claiming the migrant workers are in the area illegally.

The state representative said he would only clarify the tweet if he sees the visas that authorize the migrants.

“Once one of the articles publishes that shows the H2-A visa documents, I’m going to attach that [to the Tweet],” Sabatini said. “Once again, super-weird coincidence that out of the 1 million illegal immigrants we have in the state of Florida, this one occurrence would actually be people who are here legally.”

[TRENDING: Whoopi Goldberg suspended over Holocaust race remarks | VIDEO: Massive fight breaks out at Golden Corral over piece of meat | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

News 6 obtained the visa, a public record, from the owner of Dewar Nurseries and from the U.S. Department of Labor, where you can see the visa for yourself.

On Wednesday, Sabatini replied to News 6 on Twitter.

“UPDATE: @news6wkmg has obtained the H-2A visas of the workers—they’re NOT part of the mass of illegal aliens being shipped into FL by the Biden Administration,” Sabatini’s post reads. “Now I am OFFICIALLY challenging News 6 to investigate & post the visas of the nearly 800k+ illegals currently in Florida.”

“What happened yesterday is a scandal. It is a lie,” said Sister Ann Kendrick, the founder of Hope CommUnity Center. “I heard that there was misinformation. That wasn’t misinformation, and Sabatini — Anthony Sabatini — knew very well what he was doing, which was stirring up his base of racist commentary, racist vision that treats immigrants and foreign workers in particular with disrespect.”

The local organizations came together to send a message that hate and racism in the community will not be tolerated and Sabatini was not the only target of the organizers of Wednesday’s news conference.

“We are ashamed of the leadership in this state. We have a governor and politicians who are following what he’s saying — whatever it is, even if it’s crazy — to do what he says to grow hate — hate and xenophobia. That’s not the type of Florida we want,” said Isabel Vinent, the co-executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition.

Vinent specifically called out the governor’s claims of undocumented immigrants being brought to Florida by the Biden Administration.

“We have a governor (who) for months has been hammering on ‘illegals’ being brought here to the United States and to Florida,” she said.

News 6 partner WJXT-TV investigated and confirmed through the Biden administration that undocumented immigrants have been brought to the state as the federal government deals with the border crisis.


A previous version of this story misidentified Isabel Vinent. News 6 apologizes for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

About the Authors:

Thomas Mates is a digital storyteller for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com. He also produces the podcast Florida Foodie. Thomas is originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania and worked in Portland, Oregon before moving to Central Florida in August 2018. He graduated from Temple University with a degree in Journalism in 2010.

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.