Gov. DeSantis rolls out new initiatives aimed at cracking down on undocumented migrants

Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Jacksonville on Thursday morning to speak about what he calls an ongoing crisis when it comes to migrants coming into the United States illegally.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis was in Jacksonville on Thursday morning to speak about what he calls an ongoing crisis when it comes to migrants coming into the United States illegally.

“This country is unable to control its own borders,” DeSantis said.

Standing behind a sign that read “Biden’s Border Crisis,” DeSantis criticized President Joe Biden’s policies on the border and said they are leading to an influx of drugs and other issues.

DeSantis touted a number of legislative priorities that he said will be aimed at cracking down on undocumented immigrants in Florida.

“Wouldn’t it be better to say that the migrants coming into Florida are American citizens or at least people that are here lawfully? And that’s what we want to get to,” DeSantis said.

He said the Florida legislature will hear a bill that would increase penalties for those accused of human smuggling in the state, increasing the penalty to a third-degree felony with a separate offense for each person. It could lead to 5 years in prison if convicted and it can be a heavier punishment if the person smuggled is under 18 years old.

DeSantis also said he wants to “remove the enticement of employment” for migrants who want to come to Florida by requiring employers to use “E-Verify,” a web-based system that allows employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.

Right now, Florida law now requires all public employers and their private contractors to use E-Verify, a system run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But private employers are not required to use the system.

Early in his first term, DeSantis tried to push the legislature to mandate universal E-Verify, but it got strong pushback from hospitality and agriculture businesses. Asked on Thursday what will make the new proposal different, DeSantis called the 2020 law an “inadequate” compromise. He also noted that Republican majorities in the House and Senate have expanded.

DeSantis said he also wants hospitals to turn over data that reveals how much it costs to provide healthcare to undocumented immigrants.

“In the face of a failed federal administration, neglect at the border, honestly intentional of what is going on at the border because it fits a vision, we are fighting back on behalf of Floridians, and I think that if other states mimic the proposals that I’ve been put forth today, and the proposed legislation, it is going to make a big, big difference,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who is a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, wants lawmakers to pass the measures during the legislative session that will start March 7.

The proposals likely will be controversial, with the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund quickly blasting DeSantis on Thursday.

“DeSantis’ xenophobic policies place Florida residents — regardless of immigration status — in danger of unfair targeting and racial profiling,” A.J. Hernández Anderson, senior supervising attorney for the organization, said in a prepared statement. “DeSantis’ political posturing will have a chilling effect on cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities, resulting in serious consequences for immigrant families, children and persons of color across the state.”

DeSantis’ proposal also will seek to block undocumented immigrants from practicing law in Florida. It also would reverse a 2014 legislative decision that granted out-of-state tuition fee waivers for undocumented immigrant students.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration released a new rule that largely bars migrants who traveled through other countries on their way to the US-Mexico border from applying for asylum in the United States, marking a departure from decadeslong protocol.

Along with supporting legislation, DeSantis has taken other high-profile steps to burnish his reputation as tough on immigration. For example, he sent Florida law-enforcement officers to Texas to help with border enforcement.

Last week, DeSantis signed a controversial bill expected to result in Florida transporting migrants to “sanctuary” areas of the country. The bill, passed during a special legislative session, came after the DeSantis administration sparked a controversy — and legal challenges — by transporting about 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in September.

About the Authors:

Jim is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics.