By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis focused on national politics Friday as he rolled out a series of proposals for the upcoming 2022 legislative session aimed at the border policies of President Joe Biden.
DeSantis called for state lawmakers to “fight against the Biden border crisis” by passing legislation to expand a law targeting so-called “sanctuary cities” and to bolster E-Verify employment rules.
During a news conference at Jacksonville International Airport, DeSantis also said he wants the Legislature to bar contractors from doing business with the state and local governments if the contractors work with the Biden administration to transport people who entered the country illegally. In addition, DeSantis said private companies assisting the federal government with migrants should be required to cover costs of law enforcement, health care and other services.
“We just cannot be doing contracts with companies that are knowingly and recklessly facilitating, bringing people here into our state illegally,” DeSantis said.
The airport has been a stop for flights carrying migrants, including one flight that DeSantis said contained a man claiming to be a teenager who later was accused of murder in Jacksonville. While there haven’t been any such flights reported in about six weeks, DeSantis — widely speculated as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate — has long made national border security a high-profile issue.
A $99.7 billion budget proposal he rolled out Thursday for the Legislature to consider included an $8 million line item to transport undocumented immigrants out of state. DeSantis also sent Florida law-enforcement officers and equipment to the Southern border for seven weeks in the summer at the request of Texas. The Miami Herald reported the state’s price tag for the deployment tops $1.6 million.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat running for governor next year, was among Democrats who quickly tied DeSantis’ proposals Friday to 2024 White House ambitions.
“Which of Florida’s borders, Alabama or Georgia?” Taddeo tweeted. “Ronnie is spending Floridians’ taxpayer dollars pandering to voters in Iowa.”
DeSantis announced his proposals hours after a Department of Children and Families emergency rule was published about agencies that provide services to unaccompanied children being resettled in Florida.
Larry Keefe, a former U.S. attorney who was named by DeSantis as the state’s “public safety czar,” blamed Biden administration policies for opening the border to criminal cartels smuggling migrants through Mexico from South America, Central America and other parts of the world.
“The Mexican criminal cartels have custody and total control over these migrants on this journey,” Keefe said Friday at the airport. “Many of them are what are called unaccompanied children. And they make this long dangerous journey without their families. Too many of these unaccompanied children suffer horribly on this journey, and some die. Too many are abused by the criminal cartels and smugglers. And way too many descend into criminal sex trafficking, labor trafficking and drug trafficking after they arrive in the United States. American kids are dying of drug overdoses in record breaking numbers from pills laced with fentanyl. More than 90% of this fentanyl that is killing our kids crossed the Mexican border.”
DeSantis’ proposals have not been filed in legislation for the 2022 session, which will start Jan. 11. But he was joined at the news conference by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, and Rep. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville.
As part of his proposals, DeSantis wants to expand a 2020 state law that requires all government employers and some contractors to use a federal electronic system known as E-Verify to check the immigration status of new workers. DeSantis wants to add enforcement powers for the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
Also, DeSantis wants to expand a controversial 2019 law aimed at sanctuary cities by declaring a “sanctuary policy” for any local government that doesn’t assist state law-enforcement officers in investigations about people in Florida illegally.
A federal judge in September ruled that two parts of the 2019 sanctuary-cities law violated constitutional equal-protection rights. One of those parts of the law banned state and local agencies from having sanctuary policies that would prevent law-enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration-enforcement efforts. The other part required law-enforcement agencies to use “best efforts” to support enforcement of federal immigration laws.
The law was designed to spur local law-enforcement agencies to fully comply with federal immigration detainers and share information with federal immigration authorities after undocumented immigrants are in custody.
U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom, who is based in South Florida, delved extensively in the ruling into the Republican-dominated Legislature’s development of the law (SB 168) and pointed to what she described as an “immigrant threat narrative” that helped lead to it.
“Based on the evidence presented, the court finds that plaintiffs have proven by a preponderance of the evidence that SB 168 has discriminatory or disparate effects on racial and ethnic minorities, and these discriminatory effects were both foreseeable and known to the Legislature at the time of SB 168’s enactment,” she wrote.
In Florida, no cities or counties have sanctuary policies. Opponents have argued, in part, that the law will lead to increased detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, including people stopped by police for minor offenses.
The state has appealed Bloom’s ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case is pending.