Touted as the most effective and ambitious immigration measure in the nation by supporters, SB 1718 also came with its share of criticism when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law earlier this year.
Much of the backlash was aimed at a part of the law that enhanced felony charges for transporting immigrants without legal status into Florida.
Three months after the law went into effect, how many people have been charged with this offense?
The total arrested by Florida Highway Patrol troopers — so far — is three, according to records from the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Trooper Wesley Kelly in Hernando County arrested two of the drivers, while the third was detained by Trooper Deryck Lewis in Sumter County. Kelly and three other troopers, as well as one Border Patrol agent, arrived on the scene a short while later to assist Trooper Lewis.
All three criminal cases were in August and involved two Mexican nationals and one Honduran, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times via a records request. According to police records, one trooper in Hernando County arrested two of the drivers, while the third was arrested in Sumter County. It is possible that other law enforcement agencies throughout the state may have also made arrests for violating this law.
The state legislation went into effect July 1 and provides enhanced penalties for people who knowingly and willfully transport people without legal status into the state and invalidates driver’s licenses issued by other states for such immigrants, among other provisions.
Ana Lamb, who advocates in Tampa and Wimauma for Mexican migrants, opposed the law and said it’s unclear how officials are enforcing it.
“If this were indeed a real problem, the question would be why there are only three detainees under this law when we know that throughout the state there are police operations resulting in dozens of criminals being apprehended,” said Lamb.
The fact that only Hispanics have been detained is concerning, she said, because it suggests racial profiling.
The first arrest was Aug. 7. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper spotted a 2012 Nissan Xterra SUV traveling north of State Route 93 on I-75 in Bushnell, Sumter County. The SUV had illegal side window tint and an expired tag that was not assigned. The driver, David Cumplido Jimenez, 23, did not have a valid driver’s license from any state and said that he received the car two days before in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.
Cumplido was driving with two passengers. He said they drove from New Mexico to Florida, and they all met through a Facebook group for job-seekers. They worked in various trades, according to the report. They earned $1,500 for a day’s work and slept in the SUV. All three were from Mexico and had entered the U.S. without getting legal authorization. Cumplido faces two felony counts and two misdemeanors for driving without a valid license and attached tag not assigned.
Penalties and charges for transporting five or more immigrants or an unaccompanied minor without proper legal documents could lead to up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. For those with a prior conviction for human smuggling, the penalty may include a $10,000 fine and up to 15 years in prison. DeSantis signed the legislation in May. It’s considered to be among the nation’s toughest crackdowns on illegal immigration.
Get insights into Florida politics
Subscribe to our free Buzz newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The second incident came the next day, Aug. 8. It involved a Honduran, Eldin Ariel Trejo, 37, who was pulled over on I-75 near SR-50 in Brooksville while driving a van 77 mph in a 70 mph zone. The police found that he was transporting five immigrants without legal permanent status from Atlanta to St. Petersburg. Trejo, who was not in the country legally and had previously been deported twice, was charged and booked into the Hernando County Jail on three counts of human smuggling, unlawful use of a two-way communication device, and driving with a suspended license. Court records show Trejo has been appointed a public defender.
On Aug. 21, the Florida Highway Patrol stopped Raquel Lopez Aguilar, 41, on I-75. The report said Lopez Aguilar was driving six immigrants from Georgia to Tampa, including a 7-year-old. He was charged with four counts of human smuggling as well as driving without a license. Aguilar and a passenger had been deported previously, the report said.
The Mexican government is paying for the legal defense of its Mexican nationals who have been accused of violating the new immigration law in Florida, such as Lopez Aguilar and Cumplido Jimenez. Mark Arias, an Orlando-based attorney, is representing Lopez Aguilar and will do the same for Cumplido Jimenez, according to the Mexican consul in Orlando, Juan Sabines.
Sabines visited Lopez Aguilar at a jail in Hernando County two weeks ago. On Tuesday, he visited Cumplido Jimenez at a jail in Sumter County. Later, Sabines posted on his X account, formerly Twitter:
“In accordance with the President @lopezobrador_, we will safeguard the rights of the Mexican migrant community.”
Supporters of the law have said it will stop an influx of illegal immigration, while critics say it will harm all types of people, including citizens and families with mixed immigration status.
DeSantis has called the law “the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration law in the country to fight back against reckless federal government policies and ensuring that Florida taxpayers are not footing the bill for illegal immigration.”
Correction: This story has been updated to make clear that Florida Highway Patrol troopers have arrested three people for transporting migrants without legal status into Florida in the past three months.
In addition, this story has been updated to say that the immigration measure signed into law enhanced penalties for the existing crime of transporting immigrants without legal status into Florida.