Florida GOP Passes Sweeping Anti-Immigration Bill That Gives DeSantis $12 Million for Migrant Transports

Gov. DeSantis has repeatedly pushed anti-immigration measures during his time in office. | Rebecca Blackwell/AP Photo

Florida Republicans on Tuesday handed Gov. Ron DeSantis another legislative victory after lawmakers signed off on a sweeping anti-immigration measure that will guarantee millions of dollars more for a controversial program the governor used to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

DeSantis, who is expected to announce a run for president in the coming weeks, has repeatedly faulted President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and regularly criticizes the administration’s handling of the surge of migrants crossing into the U.S. at the southern border.

The governor and his Republican allies contended that the newly approved bill will send a “message” to the Biden administration, while Democrats countered the legislation was overtly cruel and intimidating to migrants.

House lawmakers approved the measure after debating for 90 minutes, culminating with bill sponsor Rep. Kiyan Michael, a Jacksonville Republican who was elected last year, recounting how someone who had entered the country illegally had killed her 21-year-old son in a car accident while he was driving to the bank to cash his paycheck.

The legislation lawmakers passed Tuesday would require medium-sized and large employers to use the federal E-Verify system to check the status of new employees and mandates hospitals to ask patients about their legal status. The bill, S.B. 1718, will also allow authorities to charge someone with human trafficking if they knowingly transport an undocumented migrant across state lines. It would also prohibit an undocumented immigrant from driving a car even if they have a driver’s license from another state.

Legislators also set aside $12 million in the bill for the DeSantis administration to transport migrants from outside the state to Democratic strongholds and agreed to roll back a measure adopted in 2014 by Republicans and signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott that allowed undocumented individuals to be admitted to the Florida Bar.

DeSantis had also called on legislators to repeal a law that allows undocumented children to qualify for in-state college tuition if they attended a Florida high school for three straight years.

Immigration advocates and other groups strongly condemned the bill, with some even calling it “racist” and threatened to challenge it in court.

“DeSantis’ political shenanigans will force every Floridian to pay a heavy price,” said Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.