The Florida legislature is moving swiftly to rein in the freedoms and benefits it had previously bestowed upon illegal immigrants in an effort to make the state less attractive to noncitizens who have slipped across the southern border.
On Tuesday evening, the Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy passed Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia's proposal, which mirrors a set of policy recommendations that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) had put forward in February. Ingoglia's bill, SB 1718, would make the Sunshine State dramatically less appealing to immigrants who have come across the southern border illegally, evaded federal border authorities, and settled in Florida.
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"Why does anybody want to actually go through the process of actually becoming legal when all of these benefits are out there, which are, I would argue, incentives for people to come over illegally?" Ingoglia said Tuesday during the legislation's markup.
"We are compassionate here in the United States, but that compassion has created incentives to foster more illegal immigration," Ingoglia said. "That is the focus of this bill — to make sure that we are taking away as many of the incentives as possible in hopes that other states like Texas and Arizona do the same and force the federal government to get off their butt and fix the problem."
Not all illegal immigrants in Florida fall under the bill's jurisdiction. Immigrants who illegally crossed the border and were taken into custody by Border Patrol agents, processed, and allowed to remain in the United States pending court proceedings years in the future would not face any restrictions in Ingoglia's bill. Since President Joe Biden took office, his administration has authorized the Border Patrol to release more than 1 million illegal immigrants into the U.S. — who would be spared from the Florida crackdown.
However, immigrants who walk across the border and evade law enforcement and therefore have no record of arrest or being granted parole to be in the U.S. fall under the bill's restrictions. For example, a U.S. citizen driver pulled over in Florida and found to be transporting multiple noncitizens from the border to within Florida would face criminal charges.
Ingoglia and senators in Tuesday's meeting were unsure whether the bill would affect people who overstay visas or immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children and are now protected under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
With supermajorities in the House and Senate, the bill will now head to the Senate floor. If passed, it will head back to the House for a final vote. The immigration legislation's passage would be a major achievement for DeSantis, who has billed the proposal as the nation's strongest crackdown on illegal immigration any state has ever undertaken.
The achievement, potentially in the first week of May, would come days ahead of his expected 2024 presidential announcement later in the month.
The bill would unearth a “legal barrier" rather than a physical barrier, according to James Massa, CEO of NumbersUSA, a right-leaning immigration think tank in Washington.
The immigration strategy has already drawn the ire of the Left, with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in March calling Ingoglia's legislation "inhumane and outrageous."
One such complaint by faith leaders was amended in the House version of the bill during an earlier markup Monday. The original House bill would make it a felony criminal offense to transport an illegal immigrant across state lines or within the state.
Religious leaders spoke at the House committee meeting and said it could put church employees and members at risk of getting arrested for taking illegal immigrant children to church functions.
The bill would still greatly enhance penalties for smuggling people anywhere in Florida, including severe penalties for smugglers under the age of 18.
It would also make $22 million available for the state to transport illegal immigrants in Florida to other states. Initially, the bill was reported as containing $12 million, but Ingoglia clarified before the committee Tuesday that it included $10 million for 2023 and $12 million next year, for a total of $22 million toward the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program.
Florida made national headlines last summer when it chartered a plane and flew approximately 50 immigrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. The flight fell under the state's Unauthorized Alien Transport Program and was the kind of deterrence that DeSantis supported more of in the future.
The act of transporting immigrants from the border to Democratic-run cities and states pulled a page from Gov. Greg Abbott's (R-TX) playbook after he began busing people to New York City, Chicago, and Washington. Florida's efforts could mirror what some opponents have called a political stunt — and bill taxpayers for it.
Under the legislation, out-of-state driver's licenses, including those issued to 1 million illegal immigrants in California, would be invalid in the eyes of Florida police. Florida local governments would be barred from facilitating local IDs to those here unlawfully. Registered voters would also have to check a box affirming they are U.S. citizens.
State Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat, noted that making out-of-state licenses illegitimate could pose bigger problems if it goes against long-standing U.S. law.
"I understand that 19 states and Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have laws that allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver's licenses or cards. Are you concerned that invaliding these licenses will violate the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution?" Berman asked.
Ingoglia defended the idea and said that just because other states had imposed these types of policies did not mean they were relevant to Florida.
Illegal immigrants would also lose the ability to obtain a license to practice law.
“How can you defend the laws of the state of Florida when you’re not a legal resident of Florida?” Ingoglia said in the committee meeting Tuesday afternoon. “And you can’t be a legal resident of Florida if you’re not a legal resident of the United States.”
Businesses and employees that hire anyone without legal status or fake documents would be susceptible to a sliding scale of financial penalties and jail time, with the termination of a business's license as the final strike if found to hire illegal immigrants repeatedly. Starting July, private sector businesses with 25 or more employees would be required to run applicants through a federally run program to verify a person’s authorization to work in the U.S.
Adam Basford, vice president of governmental affairs at the Associated Industries of Florida, said the organization did not support the E-Verify mandate and argued the I-9 process that the federal government utilizes was already effective.
“We believe the E-Verifys program has some serious reliability problems,” Basford said during remarks before the Senate committee. “We believe that employers should be able to ... absolutely verify the employment eligibility of their employments ... but having some choice in the way they do that.”
Hospitals that collect Medicaid dollars would have to include a question on patient forms inquiring if the patient is an illegal immigrant. The forms would also note that no patient will be refused care or reported to federal immigration authorities if they identify as such. The data would be collected and shared with the state government.
Nurse practitioner and advocate against the bill, Kevin Cho, posted an informal petition on Twitter that listed dozens of public health workers who did not support the proposal to collect immigration information in hospital settings.
"Forcing our patients to report their immigration status is not only dangerous, it’ll cost lives," Cho wrote.
Ingoglia defended the hospital bit as meant to “get a handle on how much we are spending on illegal immigrants in our emergency rooms" because hospitals at present do not have a way to know how much money is directed toward this population.
“Today, under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, Florida made history signing into law the strongest state-led anti-illegal immigration bill ever brought forth.What is the sweeping anti immigrant bill? ›
Criminalizes Floridians who shelter, support, and provide transportation to undocumented immigrants, including those who have overstayed their visa or who have lived in Florida for decades and have US born children.Can illegal immigrants sue in Florida? ›
U.S. federal and state law does not grant the right to sue or the right to defend oneself in court based on citizenship status.”What is SB 1718 Florida? ›
Immigration: Prohibiting counties and municipalities, respectively, from providing funds to any person, entity, or organization to issue identification documents to an individual who does not provide proof of lawful presence in the United States; specifying that certain driver licenses and permits issued by other ...