Groups Sue DeSantis Over Anti-Immigrant Law (OPINION)

Jul 18, 2023
12:55 PM

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event on Monday, July 17, 2023, in Tega Cay, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

MIAMIFlorida’s Senate Bill 1718, now infamous across the country as one of the most anti-immigrant laws passed in recent history, was implemented on July 1.

The law already has a significant negative economic impact in Florida, causing worker shortages on construction worksites and agricultural work. In the long term, and as seasonal work picks up for different crops, these labor shortages could lead to the abandonment of agricultural lands, rendering them unproductive and unharvested.

Among a number of draconian measures, SB 1718 makes it a third-degree felony to drive, rent, or live with an undocumented immigrant, prohibits local funding of community identification programs (such as popularly-supported municipal-level identification cards), creates restrictions for small businesses to hire immigrant workers, and mandates that healthcare providers who accept Medicaid funds ask about patients’ immigration status.

Florida is in a weird place where both opponents and supporters of this legislation are acknowledging its harmful effects on the state. In footage obtained from a community meeting held by Republican lawmakers who voted for SB 1718 alongside Latino Evangelical leaders and their congregations, State Rep. Rick Roth (R-Palm Beach County) tells the largely immigrant crowd he needs them to get “your people” to return to Florida and continue working.

He described SB 1718 as a “political bill” meant to “scare” people, and that if you “like your job, you can keep your job,” before ending his bizarre speech by praising both former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

What he neglected to mention is language in the bill specifically stating that if an employer finds out or is notified that an employee is undocumented, they have to fire them immediately or suffer penalties.

Roth even admitted that “the harm is done” in terms of the impact of the legislation.

The same was also said by State Rep. Alina Garcia (R-Kendall), who started her speech by admitting she didn’t know she would have to speak at the event and had come unprepared.

Garcia claimed the bill had “no teeth,” which is dangerously incorrect. I don’t know if these lawmakers are lying, they don’t know what they voted for, or both, but whatever the case, it’s all pathetic and sad.

These Republican lawmakers betrayed the dirty little secret of immigration law in this country. Lawmakers usually want to strike a balance so that big business can have more leverage over workers, but they don’t want to take it so far as to have that labor be unavailable to them.

So much of our food supply chain and construction industry depends on immigrant labor. Florida lawmakers are pushing too hard, and people are rightfully taking their energy and skills to other states. Hopefully, it’s a wake-up call to immigrants and other workers that they don’t have to tolerate workplaces where wage theft is rampant, labor protections are nonexistent, and poverty wages are the norm.

Luckily for Floridians, several legal organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU Foundation of Florida, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the American Immigration Council have filed a federal lawsuit challenging SB 1718.

The lawsuit focuses on the provisions outlined in Section 10 of the law, which establishes felonies for traversing state lines with an undocumented person in your vehicle. The complaint states that it is unconstitutional for a state to unilaterally regulate federal immigration and subject people to criminal punishment without fair notice. It also asserts that Florida’s use of the term “inspection” within the new law is incoherent and unconstitutionally vague.

The case was filed against Gov. DeSantis, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Florida Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas B. Cox, among others, on behalf of the Farmworker Association of Florida and various impacted individuals, including U.S. citizens and undocumented drivers and passengers who routinely travel into and out of Florida.

SB 1718 harms Florida immigrants and their families far and beyond section 10, as it seeks to target and intimidate immigrant families in every facet of their lives. As mentioned, this legislation inhibits and intimidates immigrants from seeking health care, makes it harder for them to find work by imposing penalties on small businesses who hire them, prohibits local government funding of new community identification cards in Florida where drivers licenses and state-level ID cards are unavailable to undocumented people, and invalidates certain driver’s licenses from states like Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware, and Hawaii.

This law is destructive and exists solely because DeSantis is running for president and wants to stand on a GOP primary debate stage as a more anti-immigrant candidate than Trump. It’s an irresponsible and malicious way of governing, and a judge should reverse SB 1718.


Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member from Florida. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @tomaskenn