Rights Behind the Headlines: Gov. DeSantis targets immigrants in political stunts 

Rights Behind the Headlines is a new 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  

Today, we’re dispelling claims from Gov. DeSantis related to “actions” he announced he took against 22 immigrants earlier this summer. Read the headline from the Miami Herald here: DeSantis touted action against undocumented migrants. Most arrests were legal residents

Over the past several years, Gov. Ron DeSantis has created a platform out of dehumanizing and cruelly villainizing immigrants in Florida – a population that makes up over 20 percent of Florida’s residents. Given his track record, it’s no surprise that DeSantis has doubled down on his fear mongering rhetoric against the immigrant community during this year’s election cycle. He has falsely claimed that immigrants are trafficking drugs into Florida, pervasively committing violent crimes and making our communities less safe. These claims are not only false but have created a hostile environment for thousands of Floridians, including children and families seeking to reunite with their loved ones in the state.  

Earlier this summer, Gov. DeSantis revealed a law-enforcement operation beginning in June 2022 to allegedly keep undocumented immigrants out of Florida. However, local law enforcement agencies clarified that they were told, and completed the operation, as general enforcement against crime, not an effort targeted at undocumented immigrants. In his press conference about the operation, DeSantis stated that 22 arrests were made, disingenuously conflating that the arrests were made to stop undocumented immigrants involved in drug trafficking. 

What he failed to specify was that of the 22 arrests, only seven involved undocumented immigrants, and none of those arrests against undocumented immigrants involved any type of drug trafficking or violent crime. All drug-related arrests were made on legal residents.

Earlier this year, the Governor also signed Senate Bill 1808, an anti-immigrant bill that insidiously encourages racial profiling. The law prohibits government contracts with private entities and charitable nonprofits that provide transportation to what the Florida legislature misleadingly describes as “unauthorized aliens” – a category that the Governor interprets broadly to include immigrant children and adults who are in fact lawfully present in the United States but whom he wishes to preclude from being reunited with their families in Florida. The new law, which went into effect in July 2022, also undermines trust in local law enforcement by requiring them to collect information on individuals’ immigration status and by limiting protections on how this information can be distributed, in the service of an anti-sanctuary policy that a Florida federal court last year ruled unconstitutional as based on “racially discriminatory views.” The law also forces local law enforcement to enter into 287(g) agreements with ICE. A 287(g) agreement requires local law enforcement to use local resources and taxpayer funds to carry out federal ICE duties, further entangling the federal government in local matters and often leading to illegal racial profiling and other civil rights abuses. 

These political tactics by Gov. DeSantis do nothing to protect Floridians. They are intended   to divide our communities and instill fear within and against the immigrant population in our state. Unfortunately, it is clear that the Governor is willing to harm people and use human beings as props to further his own political ambition.

The only comprehensive evidence about the impact of immigrants on Florida is how vital they are to our community and economy. Immigrants in Florida alone pay more than $9 billion in state and local taxes and bring more than $100 billion in disposable income to our communities. Immigrants are more likely to be small business owners, and there are several local industries that rely on immigrants. 

If DeSantis cares about keeping our communities safe, he should invest in public education, affordable housing, healthcare access, and job creation, instead of diverting state and local resources to his anti-immigrant political agenda. 

What we do know is that immigrants are fundamental to Florida’s culture - they make our state, our communities, our economy and our lives better.