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Major immigration reform heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk

'It is a federal issue,' House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell says
Posted at 7:43 PM, May 02, 2023

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The governor is getting his sweeping immigration reform package. House Republicans gaveled final legislative approval to the bill Tuesday. That's despite wide opposition from Democrats.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the policy goal back in February. While it doesn't go as far as he wanted — there is still a lot in it.

The bill contains the following provisions:

  • Higher penalties for those knowingly transporting or hiring undocumented migrants 
  • Required e-verify screening for new hires if a business has 25 or more employees 
  • Invalidates law degrees and out-of-state driver's licenses for those who are undocumented  
  • Requires hospitals to collect immigration status 
  • $12 million more tax dollars for the state's migrant relocation program

The bill was personal for one of its House sponsors. Rep. Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville, lost her son during a traffic collision with an undocumented driver. She said the passage was bittersweet.
"It's a double-edged sword," Michael said. "My heart is broken. I know that, like my son, there are families whose children won't come back. Hopefully, this bill will prevent other families from enduring what we have."

For other Republicans, the legislation is a state response to what they consider a national crisis.

"We have to do what we can at the state level to make sure that our state is not a magnet once these people do cross these borders that are left wide open," Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater, said.

Democrats have called the policy overly vague and a political attempt to further the governor's future endeavors. DeSantis is widely expected to launch a 2024 bid for the White House in the coming weeks.

"It is a federal issue," House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said. "So, why do states like Texas and Florida stick their noses into it? I think the reason that they do that is to score votes with conservative voters."

Then there are migrants like Thomas Kennedy. The Argentinian, who was undocumented for a time, considered the bill heartless and dangerous to a population seeking a better life.

"It's inhumane. It's cruel," Kennedy, who lives in Miami, said. "Most people are just good people. They're hard-working. They're trying to provide for and love their families, and it's just painful."

Kennedy and other critics have vowed to keep up opposition to the changes as the governor readies his felt pens for signature.

DeSantis is expected to sign this legislation despite it lacking some of the things he wanted. His original proposal called for universal e-verify and stripping undocumented migrants of access to in-state tuition.