The Senate has voted along party lines to pass legislation to further crack down on illegal immigration, a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In debate that carried the Senate to 11 p.m. Thursday, Democrats lambasted the bill (SB 1808) as an unnecessary political move playing into DeSantis’ priorities and “red meat” for the 2022 Session. The measure, carried by Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, would prevent transportation companies from doing business with Florida if the companies participate in programs transporting to the state people who are in the country illegally.
DeSantis announced the proposal in December after criticizing President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, including bringing flights to Jacksonville to relocate people he claims were in the country illegally. DeSantis and Bean, whose district includes part of Duval County, have said Florida is aware of 78 early morning flights to Jacksonville organized by the federal government.
With his bill, passed 24-15 along party lines, Bean hopes to send a message to the Biden administration to follow federal law and curb the number of immigrants who he says are entering the country illegally.
“We can’t sustain the numbers. We ask that you act,” Bean told Senators. “Maybe other states will join in, and we can all say enough, because we all support the rule of law.”
Bean, who is in his 10th year as a Senator, has called the flights a “midnight program of human smuggling” that are part of Biden’s “unlawful pursuit of an open border policy.” Meanwhile, DeSantis has called the trips “clandestine flights” that his administration only learned about because of leaks from federal officials.
With recent changes, Republicans argue the bill would not impact transportation companies’ ability to move unaccompanied minors, people protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or those in another protected status. The bill labels immigrants not accepted as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act as “unauthorized aliens.”
Orlando Democratic Sen. Victor Torres, who is of Puerto Rican descent, called out the term during debate on the Senate floor.
“I’m tired of hearing aliens refer to my people,” Torres said. “We’re not aliens. We don’t drop out of the sky. We are human beings. We look for a better life. Our families look for a better life.”
In September, a federal judge struck down part of the 2019 sanctuary cities law, but Republicans hope the new bill will be another shot at the measure as the ruling goes to an appeal.
The new legislation would take effect immediately with DeSantis’ signature.
The bill also would require that counties strike agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in a program for local law enforcement officers to help with immigration enforcement. Many counties have already reached such agreements.
The policies are unnecessary and build off a defunct law, Democrats argued.
“We know that this is, my own words, completely political,” Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky said. “Right now we’re just trying to give it to Biden.”
DeSantis’ proposed budget includes $8 million to transport undocumented immigrants out-of-state. However, neither the House nor Senate budgets currently consider that provision.
While the Legislature is pushing forward with the provision, the bill doesn’t consider all five of DeSantis’ major proposals for the “Biden border crisis.”
The bill doesn’t contemplate strengthening E-Verify enforcement or requiring private entities that bring immigrants to Florida illegally to compensate the state for “the harmful costs that fall on the public.”
DeSantis also asked for jails and courts to collect the immigration status of individuals at the time of their arrest and conviction, but the bill doesn’t go that far with its immigration status reporting provisions.
DeSantis faces re-election in November and is an early frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, a possibility the Governor has brushed off. However, North Miami Beach Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo tied the bill directly to DeSantis and the news network that has helped him become one of the nation’s most popular conservative figures.
“It’s a platitude. It’s something that was set on Fox News one night and someone had to draft something that you guys got to swallow,” Pizzo said.
In a letter to lawmakers and DeSantis on Wednesday, leader’s from Florida’s Venezuelan and American Business Immigration Coalition Action called the bill a direct attack on the Venezuelan community. They feared many immigrants with Temporary Protected Status could fall into the bill if their work permits are delayed due to backlogs at federal immigration offices.
The bill was done for political reasons, the groups continued.
“All these people want — our family, our neighbors — is to be able to work to provide for their families,” they wrote. “It is an outrage that this bill risks jeopardizing their ability to do so, injects instability and uncertainty into their long-term plans.”
In four amendments to Bean’s bill on Wednesday, Democrats attempted to constrain the bill by clarifying which type of immigrants would be covered. One measure would have clarified that Ukrainian evacuees would be exempt from the provisions. However, Bean insisted that would already be the case.
“Nobody wants to be here. Think I want to do the bill? I wish we didn’t have to do the bill. I wish the federal government would step up to the plate and protect our border,” Bean told Senators Wednesday.