Apr 28, 2023 - Politics

Immigration overhaul clears Florida Senate

Illustration of a welcome to Florida sign with the words WELCOME TO crossed out with spray paint, and a keep out sign affixed to it with duct tape.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Florida Senate passed an immigration reform package Friday aimed at tightening restrictions on the state's undocumented community and imposing harsher penalties for those who aid them.

Why it matters: Florida is home to an estimated 772,000 unauthorized immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. More than 81,000 of them live in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties.

  • The bill comes at the repeated urging of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made curbing illegal immigration a centerpiece of his legislative priorities.

Details: If passed, the bill would make it a felony to drive undocumented immigrants in or out of the state and require hospitals to collect data about a patient's immigration status.

  • The reform package would also bar counties from funding identification cards for undocumented immigrants and invalidate out-of-state driver's licenses for those without proof of citizenship, among other restrictions.

Zoom in: Diego Alonso Dulanto Falcon Gutierrez Tanaka, an undocumented Tampa Bay resident, has visited the hospital twice in five years.

  • He can't remember the last time his parents went due in part to fears a visit could make them vulnerable to deportation.
  • "I highly doubt we're ever going to seek health care, even if it is an emergency," he told Axios. "What else am I supposed to do now if I can't even trust the institutions created to keep us safe and healthy?"

What they're saying: "This bill has nothing to do with making Florida a better place to live," Kirk Bailey, the ACLU of Florida's political director, told Axios. "This hurts everyday Floridians, our businesses and our economy, and even disincentivizes people from seeking medical care."

  • "People who live in Florida are going to have to miss events, sometimes milestone events like graduations or weddings, because they are essentially trapped in a state which is persecuting them," Paula Muñoz of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said.

The other side: "We can no longer turn a blind eye to what's happening," state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), who filed the bill, said. "It is time for us, the state of Florida, to step up and tell the federal government to fix this problem because we are no longer standing for it."

Of note: The immigration package would also fulfill DeSantis' long-held desire to require all employers in Florida to use the government's online system E-Verify to check their employees' eligibility to work in the U.S.

  • Florida's migrant relocation program — which drew national headlines after the state sent nearly 50 migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, last September — would receive $12 million from the general fund under the legislation.

Between the lines: Florida lawmakers left several items from the governor's legislative wish list on the cutting room floor.

  • The bill the Senate put forth removed a provision that made harboring an undocumented immigrant a felony and snubbed DeSantis' plan to bar out-of-state tuition waivers for undocumented college students.

What's next: The House will take up a similar proposal before the legislative session is scheduled to end on May 5.

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