Immigration changes teed up for DeSantis

As he opened the 2023 legislative session nearly two months ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis targeted illegal immigration.

"We must further strengthen our laws against illegal immigration by enhancing employment verification, increasing penalties for human smuggling and further disincentivizing illegal migration to the state of Florida," DeSantis said March 7 during his State of the State address.

On Tuesday, with just days left in the session, Republican lawmakers carried out DeSantis’ wishes.

The House gave final approval to a controversial bill (SB 1718) that includes stepping up requirements on businesses to check the immigration status of workers, cracking down on people who bring undocumented immigrants into Florida and collecting data about whether hospital patients are in the country legally.

The bill drew intense, often-personal debate that included lawmakers talking about their families moving to the United States and House sponsor Kiyan Michael describing the day her son Brandon was killed in a car accident caused by an undocumented immigrant.

"Heaven has borders," Michael, R-Jacksonville, said as she finished speaking to the House. "Hell has none."

But Democrats called the bill "cruel" and said it would hurt migrants who, for example, might not seek needed hospital care because of concerns about being questioned about their immigration status.

"Immigrants are not the enemy," Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, said. "Hate is."

The House voted 83-36 to pass the bill along almost straight party lines. Rep. Vicki Lopez, R-Miami, crossed party lines, joining Democrats in opposing the bill. The Senate voted 27-10 to pass the bill last week, meaning it is now ready to go to DeSantis.

DeSantis and the Legislature in recent years have passed a series of changes to target illegal immigration, including a 2019 law that banned so-called sanctuary cities. A federal appeals court last month tossed out a constitutional challenge to that law.