Ron DeSantis speaks at Palm Beach Atlantic University. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
North America

Ron DeSantis Wants to Make Transporting Migrants a Felony

March 3, 2023 By Isabela Dias
This is the same man who flew 50 asylum seekers to Martha’s Vineyard.

This story first appeared in Mother Jones.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a legislative proposal to “fight against Biden’s border crisis.” The bill, if approved by the Republican-dominated legislature, would make it a third-degree felony to “knowingly transport, conceal, or harbor” an undocumented migrant “within or into the state,” punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If the migrant is a minor, it would be a second-degree felony, with even harsher punishments. “Transported individuals will be detained by law enforcement as material witnesses,” the proposal says.

Under the new plan, Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director with the American Immigration Council, tweeted, “a mom who drove her undocumented kid to school could be guilty of a second-degree felony (same as vehicular homicide) and could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.” The initial language is so broad and without exceptions, he continued, “that even an ambulance driver taking a person they think is undocumented to the hospital would be committing a felony.”

The provisions are part of a broader immigration package unveiled by the governor as he goes on a cross-country book tour and ahead of the onset of the Florida legislative session. It also comes as the governor pushes to expand a controversial migrant transportation program he previously used as a political stunt to fly about 50 asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, last September. The original program operated by the Florida Department of Transportation spurred investigations and several legal challenges, including a class action lawsuit on behalf of the migrants themselves and accusing the government officials of fraudulently coercing them to board planes “through misrepresentations and false promises.” In mid-February, DeSantis signed legislation allocating $10,000,000 to the state Division of Emergency Management to relocate migrants to and from any state, not only Florida.

Also included in the new proposal is the repeal of a law from 2014 allowing undocumented students who had arrived in the state as children and attended a Florida high school for three years to pay in-state-tuition rates. “If we want to hold the line on tuition, then you have got to say ‘you need to be a US citizen living in Florida,’” DeSantis said at a press conference. “Why would we subsidize a non-US citizen when we want to make sure we can keep it affordable for our own people?” Senator Rick Scott, who signed the bill at the time as the governor, recently said he would do it again today.

Other measures would require hospitals to collect data on patients’ immigration status and report costs associated with treating undocumented migrants and mandate that all state employers, including private businesses, check employment eligibility through the E-Verify federal database. Under the proposal, people registering to vote would have to swear that they are US citizens under penalty of perjury, even though non-citizen immigrants are already prohibited from voting in the state.

“These legislative proposals will target everyday Floridians by creating a surveillance state,” A.J. Hernández Anderson, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, said in a statement. “Anyone, even US citizens, will be subject to arrest simply for giving someone a ride to the doctor, school or church.”

About Isabela Dias

Isabela Dias is a reporter at Mother Jones. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, the Nation, Pacific Standard, Texas Observer, and elsewhere. She holds a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.