Farmworker association sues DeSantis over new immigration law

'We're protecting Floridians with the full extent of our powers to do that,' governor said last month
Posted at 5:05 PM, Jul 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-17 23:16:57-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Another Florida law is under legal scrutiny. This time, civil rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit to halt Florida’s new immigration policy-- calling it unconstitutional.

Attorneys with the ACLU and others, on behalf of the Farmworkers Association of Florida and a handful of its members, filed their complaint in Florida's Southern District Monday. The 32-page legal filing targets Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and other state prosecutors.

The group alleges Florida's new immigration law exceeds state authority for immigration issues and violates equal protections under the U.S. 14th Amendment. The attorneys are calling for a judge to block the law and declare its provisions unconstitutional. They consider it vague and warn the changes -- which took effect in July -- would "inflict enormous harm on people’s ability to go about their daily lives."

"This harmful anti-immigrant bill is unconstitutional, xenophobic and will increase the unlawful racial profiling of Florida’s Black and Brown communities," Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said. "Admittedly designed to inflict cruelty, SB 1718 is unconstitutional and undermines our democracy. This lawsuit will vindicate all of our constitutional rights, and we remain committed to ensuring that immigrants are treated fairly, equally and with dignity. Such an ugly attack on our immigrant community will not stand."

DeSantis made the immigration reform a cornerstone of his 2023 goals and is now touting it on the campaign trail for president. The law increases penalties for knowingly hiring or transporting undocumented in the state, requires hospitals to track immigration status, voids out-of-state driver's licenses for undocumented, plus further funds that controversial migrant relocation program.

All of it an effort, Republicans have said, to deter illegal immigration in the Sunshine State by cutting incentives.

"We're protecting Floridians with the full extent of our powers to do that," DeSantis said in May. "But it's sad. It's sad to see what's happened. It's sad to see these images of the lawlessness."

Legal experts not affiliated with the lawsuit think plaintiffs have a solid legal question on their hands. Immigration attorney Renata Castro, with the Castro Legal Group, suggested Florida may have indeed overstepped its authority.

"States have major powers, except in areas of the law that are of exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Government," Castro said. "And immigration enforcement and control is one of them."

If plaintiffs get a favorable ruling, it may also impact the governor's White House bid. University of South Florida politics professor Josh Scacco said legal defeats are stacking up and creating fodder for DeSantis' rivals.

"Every time the governor touts one of these particular accomplishments," Scacco said, "it actually opens up his flank to a potential attack, either from Donald Trump or from one of his other primary opponents, that the governor cannot pass legislation that survives constitutional muster."

We reached out to the governor's office for a comment on the legal filing and received this statement from Press Secretary Jeremy T. Redfern:

The ACLU has for years drifted increasingly leftward and out of the American mainstream. Long are the days when the ACLU defended actual civil liberties, such as free speech and religious rights. But taking the side of human smugglers–something truly outrageous and abhorrent–wasn’t on our bingo card.

Nevertheless, in Florida, we will continue to fight illegal immigration and the evil predations of human smuggling.

We look forward to defending Florida and its humane laws against attacks by the ACLU and its leftist cronies.