TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping immigration overhaul bill Wednesday, a move that comes weeks ahead of an anticipated run for president and just a day before President Joe Biden's administration plans to end Title 42, a pandemic-era immigration policy that makes it easier to expel migrants.
DeSantis has long used immigration to attack Biden, with whom he has openly sparred for nearly two years as his national ambitions have risen.
“We are bracing for some turbulent times ahead,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “When you have a president that has turned a blind eye to the border … when you have that, you are likely to see it get a lot worse.”
Some provisions in the Florida bill, SB 1718:
- Banning local governments from issuing identification cards for people who can’t prove citizenship.
- Requiring hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a question on intake forms about the patient’s citizenship status.
- Banning undocumented law school graduates from being admitted to the Florida bar.
- Increasing penalties for human trafficking-related offenses.
- Beefing up the required use of E-Verify, a federal database employers can use to check a worker’s employment eligibility.
DeSantis has acknowledged that immigration policy is set at the federal level and Florida's role is limited, but he has had an intense focus on trying to remove any incentives migrants might have to come to Florida.
“People are going to come if they get benefits,” DeSantis said. “You are either here as a native or come here legally, both fine things, but to come across the border and end up getting benefits in Florida does not make sense.”
DeSantis' picking Wednesday to sign a bill focused on immigration, an issue he has spent significant state resources on, is likely no accident.
On Thursday the Biden administration is expected to end Title 42, a provision in federal law that allows the federal government to take steps to keep communicable diseases out of the country. During the height of the pandemic, the Trump administration imposed the policy to remove migrants who had crossed the southern border more quickly.
DeSantis is among the Republicans who have hammered Biden over ending the pandemic-era policy, even as he and other members of the party have pushed to get rid of other Covid restrictions. He has pointed to the expected increase of migrants who will come to the border when the policy ends.
“Revoking Title 42 authority will supercharge the already skyrocketing flow of illegal aliens, increasing drug, human and sex trafficking,” DeSantis said last month. “Biden is failing miserably to faithfully execute the law and is violating his oath of office.”
Among DeSantis’ most high-profile immigration decision was the state paying for 50 mostly Venezuelan immigrants to be flown from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts without notice. DeSantis said the flight was to highlight the crisis at the southern border, while Democrats and immigration activists said it made political pawns of vulnerable asylum-seekers.
That migrant transport program has been largely dormant since the September 2022 flights, but the DeSantis administration has quietly signaled that it could become active again. The USA Today Network reported Tuesday that the governor's administration has picked three vendors — ARS Global Emergency Management, GardaWorld Federal Services, and Vertol Systems Company (which carried out the September flights) — to work with the migrant transfer program.
Republican majorities in the state Legislature gave the DeSantis administration $10 million for the program during a February special legislative session, and another $12 million during the recently concluded 2023 legislative session.
DeSantis has not given specifics when asked about when the migrant transport program might resume.