The Republican-led Legislature has approved a proposal to further crack down on illegal immigration, a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The measure (SB 1808), carried by Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, would prevent transportation companies from doing business with Florida if the companies participate in programs to transport to Florida people who are in the country illegally.
The Senate passed the bill along party lines last week. However, Miami Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis, Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia and Brandon Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned crossed the aisle as the House approved the measure 77-42.
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 organized by the federal government carrying immigrants to Jacksonville.
Rep. John Snyder, the Stuart Republican shepherding the bill through the House, told members the bill addresses how immigration law is supposed to work.
“What this bill is simply doing is sending a message to the federal government that we, as Floridians, deserve to know who’s who and what’s what,” Snyder said.
Rep. Webster Barnaby, a Deltona Republican who immigrated from England, said immigrants arriving on buses and airplanes is “nothing short of an invasion.”
“I didn’t come to America to invade America. I came here the right way,” Barnaby said. “It’s absolutely amazing to me to see that a country wants to implode and destroy itself. Not from outside, but from within.”
As lawmakers considered the bill Tuesday night, Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith called references to “midnight flights” by DeSantis and others “xenophobic rhetoric.” On Wednesday, Snyder said immigration enforcement used to be a bipartisan issue.
“It’s OK for Barack Obama to say it. But the moment that Gov. Ron DeSantis highlights the invasion that’s happening in the state of Florida, now we’re being called xenophobic,” Snyder said.
With changes made last month, Republicans argue the bill would not impact transportation companies’ ability to move unaccompanied minors, people protected under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or those with Temporary Protected Status. The bill labels immigrants not accepted as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act as “unauthorized aliens” in what Snyder described as a “complex, maze-like decision matrix.”
However, Democrats and immigration activists say Bean and Snyder referenced the entire immigration code, which they call vague. Additionally, by tying the definition to unauthorized aliens, other immigrants who are unlawfully present would be targeted by Florida’s law.
Immigration lawyers with the Florida Immigrant Coalition say the bill would impact children, DACA and TPS recipients, and refugees from Afghanistan, Haiti, Venezuela and even Ukraine. The problem lies in the federal immigration code, which distinguishes between “inadmissible” and “unauthorized” immigrants. Immigrants can be unauthorized but considered admissible.
“All in all, my quarrel is that the drafting of the bill reflects a poor understanding of immigration which causes broad, harmful consequences, and possibly even achieves results not intended by the drafters,” said Mark Prada, an immigration lawyer and executive in the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Gainesville Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson said people who arrive at the border are fleeing atrocities and hoping for asylum.
“Who are we if we are not a refuge for people?” Hinson said. “I am trying to figure out, have I wandered into the Twilight Zone?”
Snyder said the debate arguing the bill would target refugees and asylum seekers is entirely false.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen today is a master class on how to take an issue and words that are in front of us in the bill before us today and turn it into an entirely different conversation,” Snyder said.
In September, a federal judge struck down part of Florida’s 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 counties to 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 already have reached such agreements.
DeSantis’ proposed budget included $8 million to transport undocumented immigrants out-of-state. The proposal appeared in neither chamber’s budgets until Sunday, when the Senate included $12 million in its proposal for that purpose. The House agreed to that spending Tuesday morning.
While the Legislature is pushing forward with the provision, the bill doesn’t consider two of DeSantis’ five major proposals to address the “Biden border crisis.”
The bill doesn’t contemplate strengthening E-Verify enforcement or requiring private entities that bring immigrants in the country illegally to Florida 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. Democrats in the House and the Senate have repeatedly alluded to DeSantis’ 2022 and suspected 2024 campaigns.
“Maybe you don’t recognize that you’re being used as a pawn,” North Miami Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph said to Snyder.
In a letter to lawmakers and DeSantis last week, leaders 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 argued.
“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.”