Here is everything you need to know about Florida's Senate Bill 1718, the Immigration Bill.
In February 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis proposed legislation that would suppress illegal immigration in the state of Florida. In April, the Florida Senate passed the resulting bill (SB 1718), and on May 2, the House followed suit. The bill is now ready for DeSantis to sign it into law.
What the Immigration Bill calls for
The legislation includes restrictions and severe penalties that are intended to hinder the flow of illegal immigrants into the state. It increases employment verification requirements, discourages citizens from transporting illegal immigrants, requires hospitals to report on costs related to treating them, and bans the Florida use of driver’s licenses issued to them in other states.
The bill includes almost every stipulation that DeSantis had asked for; one notable exception is the in-state tuition ban for immigrants’ children, which is not in the final legislation.
- Employment rules: For some time, the federal E-verify system has applied only to public employers and contractors, but with this new bill, all companies with 25 or more employees must use E-Verify to ensure employment eligibility of their workers. Employers that fail to comply could lose their operating licenses. In addition, the legislation allows for random audits of companies suspected of employing undocumented workers.
- Transportation limits: The bill calls for stronger criminal penalties for human smuggling, which includes helping people from other countries enter Florida. (The original proposal called for criminal charges against anyone transporting migrants within the state, but that section was rewritten.)
- Healthcare requirements: Hospitals that receive federal and state Medicaid reimbursements will now be required to track and report the amount of money spent to care for illegal immigrants in their emergency rooms.
- Driver’s licenses and other IDs: Non-citizens who have received driver’s licenses in other states will be barred from using them in Florida. Also, local governments will be prohibited from funding the creation of identification cards for illegal immigrants.
- Education restrictions: DeSantis has hoped to repeal in-state tuition for “Dreamers,” the children of undocumented immigrants, but he did not have enough support in the state legislature. Lawmakers from both parties see access to higher education as a benefit for Florida’s overall economy. However, the bill does repeal a 2014 law that permitted undocumented immigrants to practice law in the state.
- Unauthorized Alien Transport Program: The bill provides up to $12 million to fund the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program (part of the Division of Emergency Management). This program stemmed from DeSantis’s transportation of immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last year.
What the legislation means for Florida
In December 2022 and January 2023, Florida experienced a substantial migrant influx when hundreds of Cuban and Haitian asylum seekers arrived by boat in the Florida Keys. The governor responded by activating the state national guard.
DeSantis, who is expected to run for U.S. president in 2024, has pushed several anti-immigration measures while in office. Those began with his push to ban “sanctuary cities” and have culminated with this comprehensive bill.
Supporters of the legislation believe the measures are necessary to protect Floridians from an immigrant invasion, while opponents consider the requirements cruel and excessive.
With this new legislation, Florida businesses must be vigilant in their hiring practices and ensure they are following the E-Verify requirements. The new rules could heavily impact agriculture, hospitality and construction.
In addition, those working in healthcare may experience a reluctance of undocumented immigrants to seek medical assistance as they may fear deportation.
If you have questions about how the legislation will impact you or your company, do not hesitate to consult legal counsel. An experienced immigration attorney can advise you on hiring practices and other issues and help ensure you comply with the new requirements.
The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.
Trent Cotney is a partner and Construction Practice Group Leader at the law firm of Adams and Reese LLP and NRCA General Counsel.