Florida Immigrant Coalition photo
In intensely emotional debates in both the House and Senate, GOP lawmakers pushed through legislation this session that includes some of the toughest restrictions on undocumented immigrants that the Florida Legislature has ever produced.
The measure was a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ initiative back in February, when he laid out a series of proposals as a response to what he and other Florida Republicans have called President Joe Biden’s “open borders agenda.”
The comprehensive bill includes requiring all 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 legislation also says that a person who “knowingly and willfully” transports an individual illegally into Florida could face hefty felony charges.
DeSantis didn’t get everything he called for earlier this year; most notably, a proposal to eliminate in-state college tuition for undocumented students. The tuition law was signed by then-Rick Scott when he was serving as Florida governor. Scott notably criticized the consideration of repealing that initiative just hours after DeSantis called for it back in February.
The House measure was co-sponsored by Pinellas County Republican Berny Jacques and Jacksonville Republican Kiyan Michael, who lost her 21-year-old son in a crash involving an undocumented immigrant in 2007.
“This bill would have made a huge difference, because it would have prevented in a lot of ways, or had the opportunity to prevent the death of our child,” Michael said after the bill’s passage in the House on Tuesday. “The illegal immigrant that killed our son was smuggled in at least one time. He had been deported twice previously, but ignored our laws and came back.”
The Senate had earlier approved the measure. The legislation will now go to Gov. DeSantis’ desk for consideration, where he is expected to sign it. Once signed, it would become effective on July 1, 2023.
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.
Republicans said the measure was important to stop the influx of large number of undocumented people who have been coming through the Mexican border in large numbers.
“This invasion of illegal immigrants, 200,000 people coming across our border every month, and it’s going to get worse,” said Palm Beach County Rep. Rick Roth on Tuesday in the House. “As we all know from current news, hundreds of thousands of people are waiting just across our southern border for the end of Title 42 right now, so imagine with over 2.5 million people coming across our border the last two years, it’s going to get worse.”
Hillsborough Democrat Susan Valdes, a first-generation child of Cuban immigrants, said this immigration bill was following a string of other bills pushed by the Republican-led Legislature that “demonized marginal people.”
“People who are friends, our neighbors. Co-workers. They attend our schools. Our churches. We see them in the grocery store. They’re not demons or imps or extra-terrestrials or terrorists,” she said, referencing a previous insult made by Republican House member Webster Barnaby towards members of the trans community at a previous committee meeting.
Orange County Democrat Anna Eskamani said not only would the bill not fix the country’s immigration crisis, but that it actually “causes a humanitarian disaster here in Florida.”
She specifically blasted the provision in the bill that requires 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.
“You’re not even going to collect data because those who don’t have status will not seek medical care anymore. Period,” she said. “It’s not even going to be a good data tool – it’s an intimidation tactic.”
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.
- 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 bill passed mostly along party lines, 83-36 in the state House. Miami-Dade Rep. Vicky Lopez was the only Republican to vote with all 35 Democrats against the measure.
After the bill’s passage, House Speaker Paul Renner released a statement hailing the measure.
“President Biden and Congress have failed to protect our borders against the threat illegal immigration poses to Florida. As a result, Floridians shoulder the burden of higher costs to cover health care, education, and other services, along with the spike in fentanyl into our country and human trafficking that Biden’s open border policy has created,” Renner said. “We passed the most expansive legislation in the nation to protect American jobs and Florida’s economy and put an end to illegal immigration. I look forward to seeing Governor DeSantis’ signature on this great bill
The ACLU of Florida released a statement where they called the bill “disgraceful.”
“We’ve seen policies like this fail time and time again in other states,” said Kirk Bailey, the ACLU of Florida’s political director. “In Arizona, legislators passed a bill that also led to racial profiling and created a ‘show me your papers’ state. Once it became law, it led to a loss of $141 million in direct spending and $45 million in hotel and lodging revenue from canceled conventions, as well as a ripple effect of 2,761 lost jobs, $86.5 million in lost earnings, $253 million in lost economic output, and $9.4 million in lost tax revenue. If this bill becomes law, it will destroy crucial bonds in our communities and our economy.”
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