A key Florida Senate panel has approved a bill aimed at expanding Gov. Ron DeSantis’ crackdown on illegal immigration, drawing pushback from opponents who called it an attack on the state’s migrant community. This month we’ll be discussing how bills are passed in Florida, and then diving into what the bill proposes and how it may affect the livelihood of Florida citizens.

Every bill that is passed in Florida comes from The Florida Legislature. The Florida Legislature is the legislative body of the State of Florida. It is organized as two entities composed of the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Either entity may originate any type of legislation; however, the processes differ slightly between the two. A legislator sponsors a bill, which is referred to one or more committees related to the bill’s subject. The committee studies the bill and decides if it should be amended, passed, or failed. If passed, the bill moves to other committees of reference or to the full group. The full group then votes on the bill. If it passes with one group, it is sent to the other group for review. This is the same process for a bill that starts in either group. A bill can go back and forth between houses until a consensus is reached. Of course, the measure could fail at any point in the process. This is how Senate Bill 1718 began, and it is currently under review and debate in the chamber.

Senate Bill 1718 is a bill that targets out of status immigrants in different ways. The bill makes using fake identification for the sake of employment a third-degree felony, and it authorizes the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to perform random audits of businesses to ensure they’re complying. Any business found knowingly employing an undocumented employee may face a $5,000 first-time fine. The fine may increase per violation, the bill says. The bill also makes a driver’s license issued to immigrants in other states invalid in Florida, if they’re in the country without status. The bill would also make it a third-degree felony to transport or harbor undocumented immigrants at work or at home. An individual who commits five or more separate offenses during a single episode could be charged with a second-degree felony. The proposed amendment would require those arrested for its violation to be held in custody until their appearance in court for pretrial release. Among these provisions, the bill also requires hospitals accepting Medicaid to report the legal status of a patient. It states though, that the data acquired by hospitals is not reportable to law enforcement and should not impact patient care. According to the Migration Policy Institute, roughly 772,000 undocumented migrants reside in Florida. The report shows most undocumented migrants in Florida arrived from Mexico and Central America.

What does this mean on a practical level? SB 1718 could have a dramatic effect on South Florida, especially economically, as it relates to agriculture and tourism, and socially, in hospitals and universities, among other locations. By way of example: What if your parent is out of status and you go the grocery store with him or her? Are you now subject to criminal prosecution? This bill would not only divide families, but also marginalize all immigrants in the U.S. Imagine if you carpool with a Latino friend to work every day; would you now need to awkwardly inquire as to his or her legal status to ensure you’re not transporting an unlawful person? How would you know what someone’s status is? How would you ask about their status? How do you know who you should ask and who you shouldn’t ask?

The fear of being caught and reported will deter any undocumented persons from becoming productive members of the community or from looking for any medical treatment they may need. Local governments would be banned from giving money to organizations to create identification cards for undocumented immigrants in Florida. SB 1718 could potentially put thousands of Floridians, including families, landlords, lawyers, and religious leaders, at risk of becoming criminals if they are caught with people who are in the country unlawfully. Meanwhile, the true purpose of the bill remains unclear. Why is the state of Florida so intent on criminally prosecuting its lawful citizens as harshly as anyone out of status? Criminal prosecution of these matters would burden an otherwise overwhelmed criminal justice system, and police resources would be diverted from much needed other matters.

SB 1718 would push thousands of people into the shadows, whether documented, undocumented, inspected, uninspected, authorized, or unauthorized. The bill creates distrust in law enforcement, more than what already may exist. It makes people not want to report crimes, and it makes all of us less safe regardless of legal status. Do we all really want to become extensions of ICE in our everyday lives?

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