Florida made headlines last year as it passed a law allowing Governor Ron DeSantis to spend up to 12 million dollars to transport migrants out of Florida. DeSantis used over $1 million of that funding to fly 50 unwitting migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard and plan a second flight to Biden’s hometown in Delaware (which was cancelled after outrage and legal threats).
Now, Florida doubled down by passing a bill last month that authorizes state officials to spend state resources to relocate migrants within the United States, without any requirement that they have ever been in Florida or even were intending to move to Florida. The new law re-authorizes and expands the “Unauthorized Alien Transport Program” and formalizes Florida’s existing commitment to target people who have been inspected and released by immigration officials as they await immigration proceedings.
The new law allocates $10 million dollars to Florida’s Division of Emergency Management to orchestrate the movement of migrants during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The law has very little information, however, about how Florida will identify individuals who will be transported. The law, for example, authorizes the state to relocate individuals deemed “unauthorized.”
As groups that oppose the law point out, the Florida law conflicts with federal immigration law. A person deemed unauthorized by the state may in fact be “authorized” under federal law, including someone who has Temporary Protected Status and a work permit.
A key provision of the law allows the newly created program to move immigrants out of any state.
This provision ends the lawsuit filed by a Democratic State Senator, Jason Pizzo, who argued that payments to fly migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard violated Florida state law. Following the legislature’s passage of the law, a judge dismissed the lawsuit, determining the new law made Pizzo’s claims moot.
Though legislators who support the program say it is “voluntary,” this does not take into account the fact that a person released by federal immigration authorities still must comply with obligations to appear in immigration court at a specific location. If Florida officials move that person to another state, the person might believe that the state is acting in cooperation with federal immigration authorities. That incorrect assumption might result in the person failing to appear at the immigration court designated by federal immigration authorities and being ordered removed.
The language included in Florida’s new law also speaks directly to unsubstantiated concerns about the impact of “the border crisis” on Floridians. The bill says the law is necessary to address a “surge” of migrants responsible for increased crime and a drag on healthcare systems, among other concerns.
These partisan talking points about border issues are not supported by the facts. Studies have shown that higher rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violence and property crime and that immigrants’ economic contributions, in Florida and other states, “far outweigh the cost of additional public services they incur.”
The language of the law highlights the efforts of Republican-led states to dictate national immigration policy. Long the purview of the federal government, states have increasingly weighed in on immigration policy with attention-seeking stunts, such as the Martha’s Vineyard flights.
Unfortunately, these policies and the money spent to carry them out are in direct conflict with the best interests of their states, where study after study demonstrate immigrants make important and meaningful contributions as new residents and long-standing community members. Florida—and any other states who try to follow suit—implement these laws to their detriment.
FILED UNDER: Florida