Oct 11, 2023 - News

Florida's immigration law leads to arrests of undocumented drivers

Gov. Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis at Eagle Pass to address the "immigration crisis" at the southern border.

Gov. Ron DeSantis at Eagle Pass to address the "immigration crisis" at the southern border. Photo: Sergio Flores for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Three months in, Florida's immigration law — which Gov. Ron DeSantis described as the nation's "strongest" crackdown — has yielded three arrests so far by the state highway patrol.

Why it matters: The arrests, all by the same troopers, cast doubt on DeSantis' boasts about the law as he vies for the Republican presidential nomination.

Catch up fast: The law, SB 1718, increases felony charges for people who drive into Florida with people they know are undocumented.

  • Experts told Axios the law doesn't "align with the framework" of federal immigration law, making it difficult to predict who could be affected and stirring concern about racial profiling.

Zoom in: Florida Highway Patrol charged three people with this offense, according to records Axios recently obtained from the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

  • Each of the arrests happened in Tampa Bay. Troopers arrested two drivers in Hernando County; they detained the third in Sumter County.
  • The cases involved two undocumented migrants from Mexico and one from Honduras. They were driving to Florida from New Mexico and Georgia with undocumented passengers.

Of note: Other law enforcement agencies in Florida could have also made arrests under the law. However, the Mexican consul's office told Axios it is unaware of any.

What they're saying: Juan Sabines, the Mexican consul in Orlando, told Axios he's concerned Florida is "criminalizing migrants just for being migrants."

  • The two undocumented migrants from Mexico "were both stopped on the same highway, for the same reason of darker-than-normal tinted windows," he added. "They are [also] both of dark complexion."
  • The Florida Highway Patrol reported tinted windows, a cracked windshield, expired tags, and going seven miles above the speed limit as grounds for stopping the three migrants, the arrest records show.

Be smart: "Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that race alone cannot be the basis for reasonable suspicion, it has allowed for race in combination with other types of behavior to constitute reasonable suspicion," said Judith Scully, a law professor at Stetson University.

The other side: The highway patrol did not answer Axios' questions about why the three arrests occurred in the same region. But it reaffirmed its commitment to enforcing the law.

  • "The Florida Highway Patrol will continue to vigorously enforce these laws in the future," a spokesperson told Axios.
  • The governor's office dismissed Sabines' characterization of the law. "We have zero patience for special interests, including the Mexican Consulate, wishing to see Florida back down from harsher criminal penalties."

What to watch: Civil and immigration rights groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, asked a federal judge to block the law, arguing that "it inflicts enormous harm on people's ability to go about their daily lives."


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