The Florida Legislature is preparing to pass a sweeping immigration bill at the urging of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who is using the issue to bolster his national standing as he likely eyes a presidential run in 2024.
The proposal, SB 1617, would give $12 million to DeSantis‘ controversial migrant flight program, which made headlines in September after the administration paid to fly 50 migrants, mostly from Venezuela, from Texas to Martha‘s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
The proposal also includes a number of restrictive measures, including a requirement for hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a question about citizenship status on intake forms, banning local governments from spending taxpayer dollars on identification cards for people who can‘t prove their citizenship, and increasing penalties for human trafficking–related offenses.
It would also require all employers with more than 25 employees to use the federal E–Verify system, which allows employers to check a potential employee‘s eligibility.
Supporters of the measure say it will help to stem the tide of illegal immigration, while opponents argue that it is overly harsh and that immigration reform should be handled by Congress.
The bill is expected to pass the Legislature this week, but is getting criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans, who argue that it will do more harm than good.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has been absent from the negotiations in Tallahassee, instead opting to take an “international trade mission“ to Japan, South Korea, Israel and the United Kingdom. He recently met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, but his visit was overshadowed by an awkward answer he gave to reporters asking about trailing former President Donald Trump in recent 2024 presidential polling.
DeSantis‘ poll numbers have dropped as he faces increasing criticism from both Trump and Republican members of Congress, but the governor insists he is not a current candidate and will make a decision if and when that changes.
The immigration bill is just one of the measures DeSantis has championed in recent months as he seeks to build his profile on a national level. It remains to be seen whether the proposal will help or hurt his political ambitions, but one thing is certain: immigration will remain a hot–button issue in Florida and beyond as the country continues to grapple with the issue of illegal immigration.