Sen. Aaron Bean addresses the Senate Appropriations Committee. Feb. 21, 2022. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel
Legislative Republicans are pushing legislation to reduce what they call the “smuggling” of “unauthorized aliens” — but just who does “unauthorized aliens” refer to? According to some immigration advocates, it’s not clear.
The bill, SB 1808, would bar state and local governments from signing contracts with or offering economic incentives to common carriers, such companies operating planes or buses, that “willfully” provide “any service in furtherance of transporting an unauthorized alien into the state of Florida knowing that the unauthorized alien entered into or remains in the United States in violation of law.”
A similar bill is making its way through the House.
A Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Monday produced a change in definition of “unauthorized alien.”
The original bill defined that as “a person who is not authorized under federal law to be employed in the United States.”
But after an amendment passed, it’s now “a person who is unlawfully present in the United States according to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.”
The panel voted, 12-6, to forward the bill to the Rules Committee, the last stop before the Senate floor.
Bill Sponsor Aaron Bean said that the new definition would not apply to people protected under the federal Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs, or “refugees who are asylum seekers that have gone through the legal process.” Bean is a Republican who represents Nassau and part of Duval County.
During public comments, critics of the bill did not seem satisfied with the change.
Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel for the ACLU of Florida, said that the term “unauthorized alien” remains “a vaguely defined and confusing category.”
“We do know whether someone is authorized to be present in the United States is a complicated and fact-intensive inquiry that even the most experienced immigration attorneys could debate,” Gross said. She worried the bill would “exacerbate racial profiling.”
The bill also requires that local jails cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding undocumented inmates.
The measure is a high priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has railed against President Joe Biden’s immigration policies. DeSantis is campaigning for re-election and there is speculation he may aim for the U.S. presidency in 2024.
“This bill, really, is an attempt to respond to the damaging repercussions of the Biden administration’s unlawful pursuit of an open-border policy,” Bean said.
During an earlier committee meeting, Bean claimed that, over the past 12 months, at least 78 chartered flights had brought “illegal aliens” into Jacksonville International Airport “that we know about” and called it a “human smuggling operation.”
Sen. Lauren Book, the Senate Democratic leader, was out with COVID but cited DeSantis’s influence during a Monday morning virtual news conference.
“Obviously, in recent months, Gov. DeSantis has directed state regulators to crack down on shelters that house unaccompanied minors in Florida. He’s now asked the Legislature to bar state contracts with companies that transport immigrants, putting children into the state on behalf of the federal government,” Book said.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried previously tweeted her opposition to the bill, saying that “the anti-immigrant sentiment that is the basis of this bill is already causing real harm to our agriculture industry and immigrant communities.”
“This is yet another hate-fueled publicity stunt by the governor and Florida Republicans that will only intensify the discrimination that our immigrant communities too often endure,” the tweet reads.
Fried is campaigning to be the Democratic nominee in the 2022 gubernatorial election.
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