DeSantis’ Hateful Record on Immigration (OPINION)

Aug 18, 2023
4:52 PM

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a fundraising event for U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, Sunday, August 6, 2023, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

MIAMIFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has consistently adopted an aggressive and punitive stance against immigrants, including the use of harmful rhetoric and enacting bigoted legislation to the detriment of Florida’s economic well-being.

With the recent passage of Senate Bill 1718 —legislation based on DeSantis’ previous executive actions and threats against the Biden administration— Florida is feeling the economic consequences of the governor’s extreme policies. The state is facing work shortages and empty worksites due to increasing fears among immigrant workers in the state.

The law has also left employers struggling to navigate the incredible amount of “uncertainty” created by the law, as economic observers point out that the new law “could bring Florida’s economy to a halt.”

With DeSantis’ failing campaign continuing to plummet in the polls, we can expect more anti-immigrant rhetoric and action from him and his surrogates because that’s what has always defined his record as a politician.

SB 1718 might be the most anti-immigrant legislation signed into law at the state level in recent history. It requires hospitals to ask patients about their immigration status, allows law enforcement to obtain DNA samples from anyone in custody, bars local funding for community ID programs benefiting undocumented immigrants, invalidates driver’s licenses from states where undocumented immigrants are granted to right of obtaining one, requires E-Verify usage by private companies with 25 or more employees, and makes it a felony to transport an undocumented person into Florida, even if they are family members.

DeSantis has pushed and signed into law other anti-immigrant legislation even before SB 1718.

In 2019, DeSantis signed SB 168, which prohibited all state and local agencies from passing or enforcing ordinances that would protect immigrants from unlawful detention and forced local law enforcement to act as immigration agents by carrying out warrantless detainer requests, leaving state and local personnel susceptible to violating the Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection rights of fellow Floridians. A federal court later ruled that key sections of Florida’s anti-sanctuary law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution

In 2020, DeSantis signed a law requiring all government employers and some private businesses to use E-Verify to check the immigration statuses of new workers, but the law proved mostly unenforceable due to loopholes carved out by lobbyists for big business. The E-Verify provision was strengthened under SB 1718 this year.

In 2022, DeSantis signed a law meant to stop migrant shelters in Florida from caring for unaccompanied children, drawing sharp criticism from religious and business leaders in the state. The legislation deeply divided the Cuban American community in Miami-Dade which has a long history of welcoming such children.

Ron DeSantis followed this up with a political stunt by having migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard in 2022. The migrants were misled about work, food, and housing opportunities, and lied to about their destination. They were given wrong information on how to follow through with their asylum petitions, potentially sabotaging their individual cases. These stunts have resulted in numerous calls for investigation from law enforcement officials.

DeSantis’ anti-immigrant record did not begin when he was elected governor of Florida but has roots from his time as a U.S. congressman.

During his time in Congress, DeSantis opposed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, voted against the DREAM Act, and voiced his opposition to protections for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In 2013 and 2014, DeSantis voted at least three times to block former President Barack Obama’s executive order deferring deportations for DACA recipients. In 2015, DeSantis voted for an amendment effectively preventing DACA recipients from serving in the military. After Obama deferred the deportation of DACA recipients, DeSantis voted at least twice to reverse the executive orders.

In 2018, DeSantis effectively voted against a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients.

DeSantis has repeated the claim, ruled false by fact-checkers, that Obama’s executive actions on immigration resulted in “thousands” of illegal voter registrations of undocumented people. DeSantis effectively voted twice to fund former President Donald Trump’s border wall in 2017 and 2018, and he effectively voted against ending the Trump-era policy of family separation at the border on two occasions in 2018.

Arizona’s SB 1070, signed into law by then-Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, required state law enforcement to ask for proof of immigration status for those deemed “suspicious” —which really amounted to racial profiling, including during routine traffic stops— and made it a misdemeanor to be caught without those papers. In 2012, DeSantis argued Arizona’s approach to immigration was the “best for American citizens” and dismissed racial profiling concerns.

DeSantis was endorsed by disgraced former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2012, stating he agreed with Arpaio and his anti-immigrant and racist policies. Arpaio was later found to have racially profiled Latinos for traffic stops and enforcement actions by a federal court.

At a rally in Eagle Pass, Texas in late July, in what amounted to the first major stump speech of his 2024 presidential campaign, DeSantis unveiled his national anti-immigrant policy proposals.

The immigration plan is unhinged. It includes ending birthright citizenship, detaining tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of immigrants, and suggesting military action against Mexico.

He continued his policy announcement by describing immigration as an invasion—a white nationalist talking point.

The details:

  • Ending birthright citizenship. DeSantis says a plain reading of the 14th Amendment is “inconsistent with the original understanding” and he would “force courts and Congress to address it.” He doesn’t elaborate on how.

  • DeSantis claims that he will pay for a border wall using tax remittances from undocumented people and penalize countries that attempt to evade collection. How he will collect this money while attempting a mass deportation program (which is also in his plan) is unexplained.

  • DeSantis proposes a mass detention program at the border while people await asylum cases to be determined. This will lead to thousands of people being held by the U.S. government for an indefinite amount of time when they could otherwise be working, paying taxes and living fruitful lives.

  • DeSantis proposes a mass deportation program that is pretty vague on how broad it would be, but it’s implied that anyone living unauthorized in the U.S. would be targeted. He includes people who overstayed visas (which is how I myself came to live in the United States).

  • DeSantis said he would authorize deadly force against cartel operatives and drug traffickers. When asked by a reporter to detail how far-reaching this policy would be, DeSantis implied it could be used against any migrant, saying, “Of course you use deadly force.”

  • DeSantis also seeks to impose penalties on jurisdictions that have welcoming policies for immigrants by cutting off “hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to them.”

  • DeSantis will continue gutting the asylum system—which is something unfortunately done by both sides of the political spectrum, although DeSantis promises to go further. He plans to block most asylum cases and force people to remain in Mexico while their cases are reviewed. He also threatened harsher punishments for migrants crossing without authorization.

  • DeSantis believes that the U.S. military has “the right to operate across the border to secure our territory from Mexican cartel activities.” This would obviously violate Mexico’s sovereignty and could constitute an act of war.

Instead of focusing on the pocketbook issues plaguing Floridians —like a housing crisis that’s displacing Floridians or a crumbling property insurance market— DeSantis continues his hateful rhetoric that attacks hard-working immigrant families. This is who he has always been as a politician: an extremist who is ramping up the xenophobic political theater for an imploding presidential campaign with devastating consequences.


Thomas Kennedy is a writer and advocate living in Florida. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram at @tomaskenn