- The Florida legislature passed a comprehensive immigration bill addressing part of Governor Ron DeSantis’ agenda, with provisions such as requiring businesses to use E-Verify to check work status and mandating hospitals to compile financial data on the cost of treating patients without legal status.
- There are critics on both sides, with supporters of E-Verify unhappy that the law carves out significant exemptions for small businesses that could be abused.
- Others argue that the bill will have a significant human and economic toll on industries that rely on immigrant labor and discourage undocumented immigrants from seeking medical care.
- The legislation falls short of fulfilling all of DeSantis’ immigration goals, but supporters say the steps are needed to address illegal immigration in the state.
The Florida legislature passed a comprehensive immigration bill on Tuesday, addressing a top priority on Governor Ron DeSantis’ agenda, with the House approving the bill with a vote of 83-36, following the Senate’s approval last week.
The bill includes several provisions, such as requiring businesses with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system to check the work status of new hires for permanent positions. Hospitals are mandated to compile financial data on the cost of treating patients without legal status, while also allocating $12 million for a controversial program to transport migrants from Florida to other parts of the country.
DeSantis wanted mandatory E-Verify for all businesses, but the bill makes a number of exemptions for small businesses that critics say will ultimately miss the majority of undocumented workers.
“The natural question to ask is what fraction of Florida’s illegal immigrant employees would be covered under that provision,” wrote Jason Richwine, a resident scholar at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that has long championed E-Verify. “Based on our calculations…56 percent of illegal immigrant employees in Florida work for firms that would not be subject to E-Verify under the proposed bill. If [challenges to mom and pop businesses] are a genuine concern, the way to get smaller businesses up to speed would be to give them a longer phase-in period – not to grant them a permanent exemption.”
If DeSantis signs the bill in spite of the exceptions, most of its provisions will take effect on July 1, making businesses accountable to use the system.
In a heated debate, lawmakers expressed their thoughts on the legislation. Republican Representative Kiyan Michael, the bill’s sponsor, recounted how her son was killed in a car accident involving a driver who was in the country illegally, stating, “Heaven has borders. Hell has none.”
Critics of the bill argue that it will carry a significant human and economic toll for industries such as agriculture and tourism that rely on immigrant labor. They also claim that asking hospital patients for their immigration status will discourage them from seeking medical care due to fear of exposure. Representative Susan Valdés, a Democrat, commented, “This bill is politically driven, and it is an anti-immigrant bill that will hurt and even kill undocumented immigrants.”
Despite opposition, supporters of the bill emphasize the need to address illegal immigration in the state. “We can’t solve the problems in Washington, but we can send a message that says in Florida, we’ve had enough,” said Representative Randy Fine during debate.
The immigration package also cuts off funding to community programs that provide identification cards to people in the country illegally and invalidates out-of-state driver’s licenses issued to people without legal status. It increases penalties for human smuggling, specifically for transporting a child or five or more people without legal status into Florida.
The legislation falls short of fulfilling all of DeSantis’ immigration goals, as lawmakers did not act on his calls to end in-state college tuition for students without legal status. They also backed off on human-smuggling language that could have made it a felony crime to knowingly transport people without legal status within the state. That provision drew criticism from religious leaders who feared they could be arrested for giving immigrants rides to church services or Sunday school.