TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - All Florida government agencies would be prohibited from doing business with transportation companies that bring immigrants who are in the country illegally into the state under a priority bill for Gov. Ron DeSantis that received its first legislative approval Monday,
The bill is DeSantis’ effort to keep the federal government from sending people crossing the Mexican border illegally to Florida. DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has repeatedly criticized President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.
Republican Sen. Aaron Bean echoed many of DeSantis’ talking points when presenting his bill, saying planes arrive in Jacksonville "in the dead of night" and the state knows nothing about them because the Biden administration doesn’t share information.
"We don’t know who these people are, and crimes ... they’re committing are very real," Bean said. "We think it’s time to say no to the federal government running this human smuggling operation."
The bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposed. It would prohibit any government agency, state or local, from doing business with any airline, bus or other transportation company paid by the federal government to bring immigrants who are in the country illegally to Florida.
Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky said most of the immigrants being brought to Florida are children. She and others said the bill would prevent children from being united with their families or resettled with a sponsor. She said the bill was more about sending a message about Biden, who has served just more than one year than it was about enacting good policy.
"Clearly this is a statement about the federal government and its immigration policy that we would not have heard two years ago," Polsky said. "This is not an issue of public safety. ... This bill makes no sense. It is unconstitutional; it is wrong on a human level."
Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson compared the proposed policy to children being separated from their parents during slavery and questioned the motivation behind it.
"These such bills really are designed — and they actually do what they are designed to do — they create fear, dissension, and, in many cases, hate. We are better than the words that are on this paper, particularly if it relates to children."
Bean said the arrival of the children hurts people in the state legally.
"They’re showing up in our schools. We do know they’re showing up in our health care and they’re taking up slots that could be otherwise better given to educate our own children rather than these folks," he said.
Immigration has been the main talking point for Republicans attacking Biden, whose approval has dipped as the GOP seeks to take back the U.S. House during the 2022 midterm elections.
The legislation also expands on a bill DeSantis signed into law in 2019 that would ban local government sanctuary policies and require local law enforcement to make their best effort to work with federal immigration enforcement authorities.
Parts of that law were struck down last year by a federal judge who repeatedly said the law was racially motivated and that supporters showed no evidence that it was needed to lower crime. The state appealed the decision and the matter remains unsettled.