Central Florida Republican Sen. Blaise Ingoglia on the Senate floor on April 28, 2023 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)
One of the most sweeping bills targeting undocumented immigration in the country is closer to becoming law after the Florida Senate passed their bill addressing the issue on Friday. The proposal has been a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who called for the crackdown earlier this year.
“We have an illegal immigration crisis, to the point where some people are actually calling it an invasion over our southern border,” said Central Florida Republican Blaise Ingoglia, the bill sponsor.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye to what’s happening. It is time for us, the state of Florida, to step up and tell the federal government to fix this problem because we are no longer standing for it.”
The vote went 27-10, along party lines.
The number of undocumented immigrant crossings at the southwest border for fiscal year 2022 topped 2.76 million last fall, breaking the previous annual record by more than 1 million, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
Ingoglia said Florida needs to signal to the federal government that the level of border crossings is unacceptable.
Gov. DeSantis in February announced an expansive legislative proposal against what he called “the increasing threats posed by illegal immigration as a result of the Biden administration’s failure to secure our nation’s borders,” but the measure that passed Friday was softened from its original language.
It now requires that private employers, public agencies, contractors, and subcontractors with more than 25 employees use the E-Verify system to test the legal status of their employees. That’s an internet-based system operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that allows employers to electronically verify the legal status of new employees. The original House version of the bill required all employers to use the system, regardless of how big their workforce is.
Another change involves transporting the undocumented. The Senate bill says a person who “knowingly and willfully” transports into Florida an individual who the person knows or “reasonably” should know has entered the U.S. illegally commits a third-degree felony. The original bill made people who transported people in and around the state itself subject to the same penalties, but that is no longer the case.
The rhetoric on the Senate floor became heated at times, as Democrats asserted that immigration is a federal issue that the states have no reason or authority to regulate.
“You know what we should be spending our time doing? Taking care of our constituents. Fixing property insurance. Taking care of their needs,” said Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book. “This is crazy. So, you can point the finger over here and get some points! Come on!” as she literally then dropped her microphone onto her desk.
Lee County Republican Jonathan Martin argued that undocumented immigration is “a problem that can be solved extremely easily by the federal government.” He listed a number of problems that he believes undocumented immigrants bring with them. “We have human trafficking. We have sex trafficking. We have drug trafficking. We have terrorists crossing our borders, and we all have the consequences that go along with each of those problems.”
Those comments angered Broward and Palm Beach County Democrat Tina Polsky, who called it “offensive” to blame those crimes on immigrants. “Stop gaslighting everyone,” she said. “We’ve got plenty of homegrown criminals ourselves.”
She then asked Martin, “How many of those folks are cleaning up your area after the devastation of Hurricane Ian?”
And she took exception to his comment that it was “easy” to fix the immigration system. “Then why has no administration — even the ‘Build the Wall’ one — managed to do it?” she asked.
Other measures in the bill would:
- Restrict Florida counties and municipalities from providing funds to any person, entity, or organization to issue community IDs to individuals without proof of lawful presence in the United States.
- Ban the use of legally-issued out-of-state driver’s licenses from states that issue them regardless of immigration status and authorize law enforcement to cite these people for driving without a license.
- Require all hospitals and emergency departments that accept Medicaid to ask about citizenship during the admission process or on registration forms, and to submit a report to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Legislature.
- Repeal a state law allowing lawyers who are still regulating their immigration status from practicing if they passed the bar after 2018.
- Require law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples from immigrants without a regulated status who are held under a federal detainer request.
- Require state entities, local governments, and law enforcement agencies to send information to a federal immigration agency regarding immigration enforcement.
- Establish that the Domestic Security Oversight Council, an arm of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the chief of Domestic Security must coordinate with the federal government on immigration enforcement in Florida as well as terrorist activity.
- Expand the legal definition of racketeering to include human smuggling and human trafficking.
- Provide $12 million in taxpayer dollars to fund the “Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program,” a program that focuses on transporting immigrants away from Florida.
The measure lacks a repeal of the 2014 law to provide in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, an item that DeSantis called for in February.
The House equivalent (HB 1617) was filed only on Sunday but approved in the only committee it was assigned to less than 24 hours later, on Monday. It is scheduled to go before that chamber next week.
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