Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in Jacksonville on May 10, 2023 (photo credit: Screen shot from the Florida Channel)
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what both he and his critics agree is the strongest anti-illegal immigration bill passed by any state legislature in the country on Wednesday.
Speaking in Jacksonville behind a podium with a sign reading, “Biden’s Border Crisis,” the governor blasted the president for the large influx of undocumented immigrants that has occurred across the U.S.-Mexican border over the past couple of years.
“Where is this president’s energy?” DeSantis said in what could be a preview of the case he will make against Joe Biden when he officially announces his expected candidacy for president. “Where is his vigor? Where’s his commitment to the cause? He’s just sitting around doing nothing of importance or nothing of note while the American people suffer.”
There have been more than 3.6 million encounters with undocumented immigrants at the southwest border since October 2021, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And those numbers are expected to increase as soon as later this week with the expiration of Title 42. That’s a government policy from 2020 that allowed U.S. authorities to expel migrants encountered at the border to stop the spread of Covid-19.
What it does
The bill (SB 1718) that DeSantis signed into law contains a number of provisions designed to crack down on undocumented immigration in the state. It:
- Requires private employers with 25 or more employees to use the E-Verify system for new employees beginning in July. The measure expands penalties for employers who fail to comply with E-Verify requirements, including possible suspensions and revocation of employer licenses.
- Restricts 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.
- Bans the use of legally-issued out-of-state driver’s licenses from states that issue them regardless of immigration status and authorizes law enforcement to cite these people for driving without a license.
- Repeals a state law allowing lawyers who are still regulating their immigration status from practicing if they passed the bar after 2018.
- Requires law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples from immigrants without a regulated status who are held under a federal detainer request.
- Requires state entities, local governments, and law enforcement agencies to send information to a federal agency regarding immigration enforcement.
- Establishes 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.
- Expands the legal definition of racketeering to include human smuggling and human trafficking.
- Provides $12 million in taxpayer dollars to fund the “Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program,” which transports immigrants away from Florida.
DeSantis has pushed to crack down on undocumented immigration since his first weeks in office in 2019, going back when he pushed for legislation to crack down on “sanctuary cities.” That measure gave the governor authority to remove local officials if they espoused such policies, although at the time of the bill signing no such sanctuary cities or counties actually existed in Florida.
Central Florida Republican Blaise Ingoglia sponsored the measure in the state Senate. He was effusive in praising DeSantis in a press release issued by the governor’s office Wednesday.
“Today, under the leadership of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida made history signing into law the strongest state-led anti-illegal immigration bill ever brought forth,” said Ingoglia. “It was an honor to usher this bill through the process, knowing we are safeguarding Floridians and serving as the model for the nation to combat this crisis created by our very own president.”
Immigrant rights groups slammed the legislation.
“Ron DeSantis’ legacy will forever be rooted in the fact that as the governor of the state of Florida, he signed into law the most brutal, inhumane, and anti-American immigration legislation that we’ve seen in the last 30 years of U.S. History,” said Andrea Mercado, director of Florida Rising, in a written statement. “It is a life-threatening, intimidating, and dangerous political stunt.”
“Whether it is on the issues of securing employment, seeking health care, practicing law, transporting loved ones across state lines, accessing proper identification and driving privileges, or requiring DNA samples from our incarcerated community members seeking to regularize their status, these bills have the same intent: deprive our immigrant communities and their networks of their dignity and humanity,” said Paul Christian Namphy, political director for the Family Action Network Movement.
Yvette Cruz, communications coordinator for the Farmworker’s Association of Florida, said in a statement that all of Miami-Dade County will be affected because the bill will punish those who interact with immigrants every day.
“The county is more than half foreign-born,” she said. “We all know and love someone who is an immigrant, all the way back to the Peter Panners who came from Cuba and were welcomed when they were children.”
The governor initially called for a major immigration package in a speech weeks before the legislative session began in February. However, one of the proposals in that speech — repealing the 2014 law allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition rates for Florida colleges and universities, never made it into the final bill.
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