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Florida Lawmakers Advancing Anti-Immigrant Proposals Need To Decide: Do You Work For Your Community, Or Ron DeSantis?

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Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing forward a package of cruel measures that put a target on the backs of immigrant communities all over the state, including one provision that would force emergency rooms to collect the immigration status of patients. But he’s not doing this alone. 

DeSantis’ Arizona-style ‘show me your papers’ proposal has the backing of a number of key Republican lawmakers in the state legislature, including State Senator Blaise Ingoglia, State Senator Ileana Garcia, State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, Rep Tyler Sirois, and Rep. Chase Tramont, who have pushed the proposals forward and are prioritizing the governor’s 2024 presidential ambitions over the serious issues facing their state.

One of these lawmakers, State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, voted to pass the legislation out of a top committee despite representing a diverse area, Miami Herald’s Fabiola Santiago said. “It’s incomprehensible that she represents Doral, the city known as ‘Doralzuela’ for its huge Venezuelan community.” Rodriguez herself is a daughter of Cuban immigrants and has in the past shown opposition to the oppressive Cuban government. 

Yet state Republicans are pushing forward hostile policies targeted at others also fleeing oppressive regimes, like the Venezuelan migrants who were transported to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida last year.

Meanwhile, State Senator Ileana Garcia has touted herself as the “daughter of Cuban exiles” and “the American Dream personified.” But when concerned Floridians went to her office to express opposition to ‘show me your papers’ 2.0 and plead for today’s migrants to also have their chance at the American Dream, she referred to the activists and community members as “anarchists” in a now-deleted tweet

“It needs to be said, plain and simple, these are people that stand for nothing, and do nothing once they get up to Tallahassee,” Florida organizer Thomas Kennedy told America’s Voice. “They see public service and elected office as a vehicle for their personal ambition and their personal story arc above everything else. So they don’t really care about … members of their own community that are fleeing adverse conditions … in other countries,” he continued. “They don’t care about … their personal background as … an immigrant or coming from an immigrant family.”

Like several local voices expressed in a recent press call, there’s still very real fear in the air despite some watering-down of the GOP proposal. That’s because someone can be here legally and still break the law. The plan, in its present form, criminalizes Floridians for transporting undocumented family members or friends into the state, bans out-of-state driver’s licenses lawfully issued to undocumented drivers, and continues to divert millions of dollars to transporting immigrants from the state. 

That’s the DeSantis priority when housing remains unaffordable to so many, and portions of the state have been underwater due to recent storms (during which DeSantis was in Ohio unofficially campaigning for the GOP nomination for president). During the call this week, advocates worried immigrant families would forego urgent medical care if forced to disclose their immigration status. Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet, Executive Director of Hope CommUnity Center, said the proposal was “like the angel of death.”

“We know firsthand the chilling effects this bill will have in the immigrant and Latino community,” he said, noting the group has served its community for five decades and has aided vulnerable unaccompanied minor children who’ve survived horrific ordeals, including sexual assault. Sousa-Lazaballet said others were sent here by their parents before they could be kidnapped and used as child soldiers. Recall that its migrants who helped the state recover following Hurricane Ian last year. This is the thanks they’re now getting.

“These are the people the Florida legislature and Governor DeSantis are further victimizing,” Sousa-Lazaballet said. “Florida has real issues including the rising cost of housing, insurance, and sea level. Immigrants are not the problem; they are the solution.” GOP lawmakers themselves have admitted the immigration plans don’t actually do anything to address the complex issue of immigration. “Is this really gonna fix the problem? I don’t know,” one GOP lawmaker admitted, according to Kennedy.

“This is probably the most anti-immigrant piece of legislation at the state level that … we’ve seen in a while, and it really serves no other purpose than for the governor to go to Iowa and posture as the most … far-right candidate there is,” Kennedy continued to America’s Voice. He said the proposals only serve “to prop up the governor” as the state faces “the most expensive rental markets in the country,” chronic flooding and crumbling infrastructure, and “a horrible public education system that has been defunded and sabotaged intentionally.” Kennedy noted that even as DeSantis is trying to set himself up as the most extreme 2024 Republican primary candidate, he’s still trailing indicted former President Donald Trump in polls.

The proposals are “senseless, cruel, and ultimately it’s us — not just immigrants, but all of us Floridians — [paying] the price for it,” he added.

DeSantis doesn’t really care about any of this, because he needs a group of people to vilify in order to further his political prospects, and he’s decided immigrants will be one of his main targets. He’s made his priorities clear. Meanwhile, Florida has pressing issues that need to be addressed, and State Senator Blaise Ingoglia, State Senator Ileana Garcia, State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, Rep Tyler Sirois, and Rep. Chase Tramont now face a choice. Do they work for the people, or DeSantis?