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DeSantis signs immigration bill, calls out Biden administration over border

The governor has aggressively expanded the role of state government in responding to federal immigration enforcement.
 
“Obviously if we had a different administration it would be a lot easier to actually deal with the problem at its source,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said of an expected surge of migrants this week.
“Obviously if we had a different administration it would be a lot easier to actually deal with the problem at its source,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said of an expected surge of migrants this week. [ REBECCA BLACKWELL | AP ]
Published May 10, 2023|Updated May 10, 2023

As the Biden administration prepares to lift a pandemic-era rule that could bring a surge of migrants to the southwest border, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed an immigration legislative package that underscores the political tensions between the White House and the Republican governor as he prepares to run for president.

With the new piece of legislation, DeSantis said Florida will be cracking down on labor from migrants in the country illegally, ending community-funded programs that give identification cards to immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, and toughening penalties against those who transport migrants into the state.

Florida is also ramping up a relaunch of a controversial program that would allow DeSantis to bus and fly migrants anywhere in the country, less than a year after the governor sent 49 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

“This is something that is the responsibility of Joe Biden. This is a responsibility that he has defaulted on really from day one of his presidency,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Jacksonville. “Obviously if we had a different administration it would be a lot easier to actually deal with the problem at its source.”

When asked about his plans to run for president, DeSantis played coy.

“I may have something to say about the overall landscape for 2024, but stay tuned on that,” he said.

DeSantis’ news conference on Wednesday was emblematic of the border politics that have become more mainstream in Florida since President Biden, a Democrat, took office. Even though Florida is not a border state, DeSantis has aggressively expanded the role of state government in responding to federal immigration enforcement, a move that has fired up his political base and inflamed critics who say he is using migrants to score political points.

In the last two years, DeSantis has spent at least $1.6 million to send state law enforcement officers to Texas to help secure the border, cracked down on Florida migrant shelters that care for migrant kids, asked the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate immigration-related crimes, and launched a strike force that mirrors a broader partisan effort promoted by national Republican groups.

DeSantis signed the bill Wednesday as the Biden administration faces a surge of migrants at the Texas-Mexico border due to the expiration this week of Title 42, a COVID-era policy that allowed Customs and Border Protection to immediately expel migrants who crossed into the United States without proper documentation.

DeSantis’ legislative package is poised to impose further statewide immigration-related restrictions. Here are some of the provisions that DeSantis signed into law on Wednesday:

  • Requires Florida hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask patients about their immigration status when they fill out an intake form. The data will be reported to the Agency of Health Care Administration, which is part of the DeSantis administration.
  • Bars local governments from spending taxpayer dollars on community ID programs that benefit people who cannot provide proof of citizenship, including migrants and homeless people. Currently, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach fund such programs.
  • Beginning July 1, private employers with 25 or more employees will be required to use the federal electronic system E-Verify to check the immigration status of all workers. The law offers a carve-out for employees who are temporary workers and independent contractors.
  • Increases penalties for human-smuggling offenses. A person would commit a third-degree felony if he or she “knowingly and willfully” transports an immigrant into the state who is in the country illegally.
  • Requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a DNA sample from anyone who is in custody and is subject to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement immigration detainer, even if they have not been convicted of a crime.
  • Repeals a law signed by former Republican Gov. Rick Scott that allows law school graduates who came to this country illegally admission to The Florida Bar.
  • Invalidates a driver’s license issued by another state to someone who is unable to prove “lawful presence in the United States.”
  • Provides $12 million to the DeSantis immigration program to relocate migrants anywhere in the country.

The legislative package was slow to gain traction during the legislative session, but in the end, it was approved with some compromises to soften the blow on small businesses with the E-Verify requirement.

Florida lawmakers also removed language that would have criminalized the transportation within the state of immigrants in the country illegally.

DeSantis had also asked the Legislature to repeal a 2014 law, championed at the time by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, that offers in-state tuition to students who graduated from a Florida high school who were brought to the country illegally. But that did not happen.