Standing at a podium with a sign reading “Biden’s Border Crisis,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a new state immigration law Wednesday that critics say is cruel as it imposes tough penalties and new restrictions on people living in the state illegally.
The measure,approved last week by the Florida Legislature,has been condemned by critics as cruel and potentially leading to law enforcement profiling. It’s considered among the toughest steps taken by any state to deter immigrants without legal permission.
“We have to stop this nonsense, this is not good for our country,” DeSantis said, adding “this is no way to run a government.”
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But immigrant advocates said Florida’s approach targets a community already struggling to survive with new criminal penalties and restrictions. Immigrants living in Florida, legally and illegally, represent a huge share of the state’s workforce, leaders added.
Susan Pai, a Florida immigration lawyer based in Jacksonville, broke the new law down, highlighting some of the bill’s biggest impacts.
Strengthening employment requirements
Several sections of the bill outline strengthened employment requirements, including:
- Employers are required to verify a new employee’s employment eligibility within three business days after the first day the new employee begins working for pay.
- Private employers with 25 or more employees must use the federal E-Verify system to verify a new employee’s employment eligibility starting on July 1.
- Public agencies are also required to use the E-Verify system to verify a new employee’s employment eligibility.
- Employers cannot continue to employ an unauthorized alien after obtaining knowledge that a person is or has entered the county illegally.
- It is unlawful for any person to knowingly employ, hire, recruit or refer, either for herself or himself or on behalf of another, for private or public employment within the state, a “foreign national” who is not authorized to work in the U.S.
- An unauthorized immigrant can not obtain a license to practice law in Florida after Oct. 31, 2028, repealing a 2014 law that allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to practice law in the state.
Violating the new law could result in a series of escalating penalties that could lead to the state suspending or revoking all licenses to operate their business.
The Farmworkers Association of Florida, a grassroots nonprofit that advocates for social and environmental justice with farmworkers, estimates that there are about 300,000 farm workers in Florida who live in the state illegally, making up about 60% of the state’s farm workers.
Losing those jobs could have a significant impact on Florida’s agriculture industry, and Pai says she imagines it’s a similar situation among roofers, landscapers and others.
“I’ve been getting a lot of calls from people asking me if they should leave the state,” she said. “The undocumented community is very scared to even show up for work.”
Pai also stressed that Section 12 makes it unlawful to even refer someone for employment within the state, and underlined that the law applies to people who lawfully entered the country on visitor and student visas but are not authorized to work.
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Hospitals must ask patients about their legal status
Section 5 states that any hospital that accepts Medicaid must include a provision on its patient admission or registration forms for the patient or the patient’s representative to indicate whether the patient is a United States citizen, lawfully present in the United States, or not lawfully present in the United States.
Hospitals would then need to turn the cumulative data over to the governor and the Florida Legislature quarterly and annually, and they would then have to quantify how much it costs to provide medical assistance to people not living in the country legally. The identity of patients would not be included in this data.
Pai says this law conflicts with health care professionals’ oaths to patients because it dissuades people in need of health care from seeking it out if they are in the country illegally.
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“It’s going to prevent people from either bringing themselves in for medical care or even their children,” Pai said. “They’re not going to know that they don’t have to answer the question. Once they’re asked the question, they believe they have to give up their undocumented status.”
People foregoing preventative health care to hide their status could end up costing Florida more money down the road when untreated medical issues become an emergency.
“Ultimately, their condition may worsen and the cost to Florida may actually be more than if they were just given the care in the first place.”
Out-of-state driver’s license issued to ‘unauthorized immigrants’ no longer valid
Driver’s licenses and permits issued by other states exclusively to people living in the country illegally will no longer be recognized in Florida.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says there are 19 states and the District of Columbia that issue these licenses to people living in the country illegally, and Pai says this bill could “open the flood gates” of racial profiling and increase the danger for drivers across the state.
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“If you have an undocumented alien who can get a valid license, they can drive legally, they can buy insurance. They’re not going to flee the scene of an accident because they have a valid license. It just makes things more dangerous for everybody,” said Pai.
The law also bars counties and municipalities from providing funds to people, entities or organizations to issue identification documents to individuals who don’t provide proof of lawful presence in the county.
Transporting a person living in the country illegally across state lines is a third-degree felony
The law now makes it a third-degree felony for anyone who knowingly or who reasonably should know that they are transporting immigrants who entered the country illegally into Florida. Transporting a minor is a second-degree felony.
A previous iteration of the bill included transportation within the state, but was cut after critics pointed out that the bill could make transporting a family member who entered the country illegally to the hospital, their job or to school a felony.
Juvenile DNA database
Section 18 would force arrested adults and even juveniles with an immigration detainer (an “immigration hold”) to provide their DNA to the state.
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SB 1718 expands FDLE’s mission to include immigration matters
The most sweeping sections of the bill outlines the expansion of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s mission to include immigration matters.
Section 13 states “FDLE, with respect to counter-terrorism efforts, responses to acts of terrorism within or affecting this state, coordinating with and providing assistance to the Federal Government in the enforcement of federal immigration laws, responses to immigration enforcement incidents within or affecting this state, and other matters related to the domestic security of Florida as it relates to terrorism and immigration.”
Sections 14 through 17 expand several Florida anti-terrorism laws to include immigration law enforcement, which Pai says is a “very smart way” to skate around having to create state-specific immigration crimes that are not also federal crimes.
Pai says this “huge” expansion of power is ultimately going to “dilute” anti-terrorism resources in the state.
“There’s no appropriation that goes along with this huge expansion of power to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and other law enforcement agencies and organizations in the state of Florida who are charged with anti-terrorism and now immigration enforcement incidents within or effecting the state,” she said.
Appropriates $12M from Florida's General Revenue Fund to migrant transportation program
Section 21 appropriates $12 million from the General Revenue Fund, which is funded by taxpayer dollars, to be used for DeSantis’ “unauthorized alien transport program.” The same program that made headlines when DeSantis flew about 50 Venezuelan migrants in two charter planes from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
The Division of Emergency Management selected three companies to execute Gov. Ron DeSantis' controversial migrant relocation program.
A "notice of intent award" issued on Monday named ARS Global Emergency Management, GardaWorld Federal Services and Vertol Systems Company, Inc., which was the company that carried out last year's migrant flights to Martha's Vineyard.
The division had posteda request for proposalsat the end of of March, aftergetting control of theprogram and $10 million to carry it out through special session legislation. During the regular session, which concluded last week,lawmakers approved$12 million more for the program.
But the taxpayer cost will be more than that, as the program has already generated multiple legal challenges. Florida has paid two law firms more than $640,000 in legal fees for DeSantis’ relocation of nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from San Antonia, Texas, to Martha's Vineyard.
The companies selected, according to the request for proposals, must "provide ground and air transportation and other related services... to assist in the voluntary relocation of Inspected Unauthorized Aliens that have agreed to be relocated from Florida, or another state, to a location within the United States."
The related services include research and planning, ensuring those relocated have provided voluntary consent, and arranging social support at the destination.