‘Bracing for turbulent times’: Gov. DeSantis signs immigration bill during visit to Jacksonville

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference in Jacksonville. (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – During a news conference in Jacksonville on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “We’re bracing for some turbulent times ahead,” as he signed an immigration bill passed by the Florida Legislature during the recently ended session.

Standing behind a podium with a sign reading “Biden’s Border Crisis,” DeSantis recounted his administration’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, including the now infamous flight of dozens of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard last fall.

The bill DeSantis signed Wednesday (SB 1718) takes aim at federal border policies by stepping up requirements on businesses to check the immigration status of workers, cracking down on people who bring immigrants without permanent legal status into Florida and collecting data about whether hospital patients are in the country legally.

The measure also provides $12 million to the Division of Emergency Management to transport immigrants who are in the country illegally to other states.

The bill drew intense, often-personal debate that included lawmakers talking about their families moving to the United States and House sponsor Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville, describing the day her son Brandon was killed in a car accident caused by an immigrant who was not in the country legally.

“Heaven has borders,” Michael said as she finished speaking to the House. “Hell has none.”

Michael also spoke at Wednesday’s news conference before DeSantis signed the bill.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill at a news conference in Jacksonville. (WJXT)

The signing comes as Title 42 -- which allows the immediate expulsion of anyone who has recently been in a country where a communicable disease was present -- is about to expire. The rule came into heavy use in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and nearly 3 million migrants have been expelled from the U.S. under the rule since early 2020.

Title 42 is set to end Thursday, and many experts believe the expiration of the rule will lead to an increase in those entering the country illegally.

During the news conference, DeSantis said the bill makes Florida the largest state in the country to do full E-Verify for employment, requiring businesses to verify the immigration status of workers before employing them.

“People are going to come if they get benefits, and so what we want to do is say there’s no benefits for coming illegally. You’re either here as a native or you come legally,” DeSantis said. “It’s already against the law for someone to be employed if they’re here illegally, but the E-Verify makes sure that that’s enforceable.”

Companies can be fined $1,000 a day and have their licenses suspended if they don’t use the system.

Miller Electric Company CEO Henry Brown said he supports the use of E-Verify.

“You are making working conditions safer for everyone. You are leveling the playing field by making sure all of our competitors are hiring Americans and legal immigrants, paying them what they deserve, and treating them with respect,” Brown said.

DeSantis explained that the bill also enhances human smuggling offenses in Florida.

There can be a $5,000 fine and up to 5 years in prison if someone is convicted of trying to smuggle five or more adults into the United States. If someone tries to smuggle a minor, it would be a second-degree felony and up to 15 years in prison, if convicted.

Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up a bill he signed at a news conference in Jacksonville. (WJXT)

The bill also keeps counties and municipalities from being able to issue IDs for those not in the country legally and invalidates out-of-state IDs for anyone without legal permission to be in the country and makes it a felony to use a fake ID to gain employment.

DeSantis said the portion of the bill requiring certain hospitals to collect patient immigration status data on admission or registration forms is so the state can track how much is being spent on those in the country illegally.

“The public deserves an honest accounting of how much this is costing us in terms of services,” DeSantis said.

Democrats, who called the bill “cruel,” said it would hurt migrants who might not seek needed hospital care because of concerns about being questioned about their immigration status.

“Immigrants are not the enemy,” Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, said. “Hate is.”

The bill also requires law-enforcement agencies to take DNA samples from people being held on federal immigration detainers. The samples would be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

About the Authors:

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998.