Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican with presidential ambitions, the Florida Legislature is considering a sweeping package of immigration measures that would represent the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration by any state in more than a decade.
Expected to pass within weeks because Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers, the bills are part of what DeSantis describes as a response to President Joe Biden’s “open borders agenda,” which he said has allowed an uncontrolled flow of immigrants to cross into the United States from Mexico.
The bills would expose people to felony charges for sheltering, hiring and transporting immigrants who are in the country without legal permission; require hospitals to ask patients their immigration status and report to the state; invalidate out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to immigrants in the country without legal permission; and direct the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide assistance to federal authorities in enforcing the nation’s immigration laws.
DeSantis has separately proposed eliminating in-state college tuition for students in the country without legal permission and beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, who were brought to the United States as young children. The tuition law was enacted by his predecessor Rick Scott, now a Republican U.S. senator, in 2014.
The new measures represent the most far-reaching state immigration legislation since 2010, when Arizona, a border state that was the nation’s busiest corridor for human smuggling at the time, passed a law that required the police to ask people they stopped for proof of immigration status if they had a reason to suspect they might be in the country illegally.
“We need to do everything in our power to protect the people of Florida from what’s going on at the border and the border crisis,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Feb. 23 during which he unveiled his proposals and spoke from a lectern emblazoned with the words “Biden’s Border Crisis.”
Backers of the new bills say they are not opposed to immigration but are trying to make sure that newcomers follow the law.
“There’s a right way and a wrong way to come here,” state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican, said during a hearing on one of the bills. “We have a process in this country. We’re not trying to hurt or harm people who are here legally.”
Critics warn the bills will sow fear, promote racial profiling and harm Florida’s economy, and the legislative push runs counter to a trend elsewhere in the country to integrate the nation’s existing population of immigrants in the country illegally, estimated at more than 10 million.
Over the past decade, and especially since the pandemic, even some Republican-led states have introduced policies to provide residents in the country illegally with health care, access to higher education, driver’s licenses and worker protections.