Rights Behind the Headlines is a blog series from the ACLU of Florida that dispels misinformation and gives Floridians critical information about the most pressing issues facing our state. Read the full series at aclufl.org/rightsbehindtheheadlines
During this year's legislative session, Florida lawmakers passed an extensive, cruel anti-immigrant bill that will negatively impact Floridians across the state. SB 1718/HB 1617 would discourage immigrant Floridians from accessing health care, prohibit local governments from funding necessary community identification cards, and expand E-Verify penalties on businesses. Among other policies, the plan would also create unnecessary and extreme penalties for individuals and groups who interact with migrants and asylum seekers, it will deter people from seeking medical assistance, and will make family separation and immigrant detention worse. Read the headline from Tampa Bay Times headline here.
For years, Florida officials have sought to pass anti-immigrant bills that seek to harm, turn away and divide the immigrant community in the state. In 2019, it was Senate Bill 168; in 2022, SB 1808; earlier this year, it was Senate Bill 6B; and now, Governor DeSantis and his allies in the legislature have passed one the most extensive bills that would impact immigrants and U.S. citizens alike in the state of Florida.
During this year's legislative session, Florida lawmakers are attempting to pass SB 1718/HB 1617, which would discourage immigrant Floridians from accessing health care, prohibit local governments from funding community identification cards, and expand E-Verify penalties on businesses. Among other policies, the plan would also create unnecessary and extreme penalties for individuals and groups who interact with migrants and asylum seekers, it will invalidate certain out-of-state driver's licenses, and will lead to more immigrant detention and family separation.
While this bill covers a wide variety of issues that negatively impact every facet of a person’s life, one of the most harmful portions of the proposal criminalizes Floridians for transporting undocumented people into the state. If someone does this, even if they are not a human smuggler or engaged in nefarious activity, they may be charged with a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The law does nothing to actually keep anyone safe, and instead actively seeks to harm Florida’s communities and those who serve our most vulnerable. Many people, such as a church bus or ambulance driver, could be criminalized for simply crossing state lines with an undocumented person. For mission or faith based organizations that explicitly serve undocumented people or others in need, this bill criminalizes the people that serve and are driven by their mission.
Criminalizing people who travel with undocumented immigrants also forces and encourages them to racially profile and discriminate against our own community members. Policies that support racial profiling impact all Floridians - citizens and non-citizens alike. This isn’t what a “Free State” looks like.
This bill is an extreme act of government overreach, surveillance and abuse of power. There are a broad range of people who would be at risk and fearful of being criminalized, and this proposal would unnecessarily funnel more people into our overburdened criminal justice system and separating families. A government for the people should not use these political schemes to harm human lives.
The bottom line is SB 1718/HB 1617 does nothing to improve our state, it only harms Floridians. If legislators truly care about supporting our communities, they must focus on and invest in public education, affordable housing, healthcare access, and job creation for all Floridians instead of harming immigrant families and people who interact with them.