The House State Affairs Committee advanced a priority bill of Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, despite Democratic lawmakers decrying the measure as politically motivated against immigrants who’ve entered the country unlawfully.
The bill (HB 1355) intensifies Florida’s crackdown on illegal immigration. It would require law enforcement to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It would also prohibit state and municipalities from contracting with companies that transport immigrants who’ve entered the country unlawfully.
Stuart Republican Rep. John Snyder is the bill sponsor. The bill passed along a party-line vote.
“We’re trying to limit human smuggling that’s being conducted by the federal government and we’re updating common sense sanctuary policies,” Snyder said.
Critics of the bill are plenty. Democratic lawmakers and activists debated the measure at length. In particular, they raised concerns the bill may disrupt outreach by nonprofits and religious institutions.
They also fear the bill is woefully vague, and may inadvertently impact Dreamers or immigrants with Temporary Protected Status — as well as unaccompanied minors.
Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Homestead Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss filed amendments to explicitly protect those classifications of immigrants.
Smith said the amendment would make it “very clear” of the protection. Weston Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman suggested it would provide a “peace of mind” to interested parties.
Snyder, however, refuted they’d be targeted in the bill and contended the amendments are unnecessary.
“It is my personal belief that unaccompanied minors fall into their own separate category in federal statute and that they are protected,” Snyder said in closing. “You have my full commitment that we will look at that and be sure other children are not inadvertently harmed.”
More than a dozen attendees spoke against the measure, including one who traveled by bus from Miami. The bill will appear next before the House Judiciary Committee, its final panel stop.
As proponents of the bill note, circumstances at the border are dire and growing worse. Border authorities in 2021 recorded a record-breaking 1.7 million border arrests.
Immigration officials, meanwhile, are bracing to average as many as 9,000 daily border arrests later in spring.
A possible 2024 GOP presidential contender, DeSantis has branded himself as an outspoken critic of President Joe Biden and his immigration policies.
The Republican Governor unveiled the proposal after media spotlighted federally charted flights to Jacksonville carrying people who have entered the country illegally.
Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer asserted Biden’s policies endanger Floridians.
“It seems like they’re taking a border crisis and trying to export it all over America and trying to create a crisis and a dangerous situation in hometowns everywhere across our country,” Fischer said.
Democrats, nonetheless, view DeSantis’ effort as racially motivated. Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson told members that immigration is the “new Black.”
“The Governor and the Legislature continues to double down in their discriminatory and racial animus toward immigrant communities,” she added.
Democratic lawmakers also warn the bill will harm Florida’s economy and workforce. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — a Democratic gubernatorial contender — suggested the bill would particularly harm the agriculture community.
“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,” she said in a statement.
Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean is the companion bill sponsor (SB 1808).