Immigrant, racial justice, and LGBTQ advocates in Florida are warning people to stay away from the state due to the onslaught of hateful laws and proposals pushed by Governor Ron DeSantis and the Republican-controlled state legislature, harkening back to similar warnings issued in the wake of Arizona’s notorious “papers, please” law more than a decade ago.
The travel advisories from LGBTQ group Florida Equality and Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide immigrant rights coalition of 65 member organizations and over 100 allies, come following passage of the state’s discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay” bill, bigoted attacks by DeSantis and members of his administration, and anti-immigrant proposals that could even punish clergy with jail time for driving an undocumented person to church. The NAACP Florida State Conference, meanwhile, voted unanimously in favor of asking its national board of directors for a similar travel advisory.
The FLIC website bluntly states the situation. “Travel to all areas of Florida should be done with extreme caution as it can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent, and international travelers.” The site urges immigrant travelers to “[m]emorize the phone number for a licensed civil liberties and/or immigration attorney” and make “a plan with loved ones regarding care/custody of children, pets, property, and personal belongings.”
In its advisory, Florida Equality said it was forced to take “the unprecedented step” of warning the state “may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence” due to “passage of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ+ community.” The DeSantis administration also helped repopularize anti-gay slurs throughout the legislative fight, with one study finding a 400% increase in hateful tweets following passage of the law.
“As an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live work and visit, it is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms,” said Florida Equality executive director Nadine Smith.
In March, the NAACP Florida State Conference of the NAACP similarly “voted unanimously in favor of asking the NAACP Board of Directors to issue a travel advisory for the state of Florida.” The vote followed DeSantis publicly rebuking an AP African American history course this past January, claiming it was “indoctrination.” News flash to the governor: Black history is U.S. history, as NAACP Board of Directors Chairman Leon W. Russell noted in the release. But DeSantis was so incensed over the course and ensuing blowback over his attack, that he threatened to ban all AP courses in the state, period.
The sad reality is that policies pushed by DeSantis and state Republicans pose a threat to almost anyone who isn’t a straight white man. Writing at The Bulwark, Tim Miller spoke to a Florida immigration lawyer who outlined the dangers posed by the anti-immigrant proposals currently being debated by the legislature. Florida is home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the U.S., many coming from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela:
I spoke to James G. Martin, an immigration attorney in Sarasota who said the new bill is “insidious,” pointing specifically to its “reasonably should know” standard for criminalizing those who provide shelter or transportation to immigrants.
“This could bleed through to even attorneys. Would we be aiding and abetting somebody?” Martin asked, echoing a concern raised by watchdog and advocacy groups. “What about churches? Hispanic churches? So someone comes to the pastor asking for help, then what?”
And, this point is particularly important. Even the bill’s primary sponsor, Republican Blaise Ingoglia, reluctantly admitted that faith leaders could be criminalized under the proposal. Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia all passed odious and dangerous “show your papers” laws in the early part of the last decade, but those were struck down in courts:
“Years ago I’d tell you this would just be struck down—there was an Arizona law like this—but I wouldn’t even say that’s a slam dunk in the courts anymore,” he said, referring to S.B. 1070, a 2010 law that was (largely) rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
These days, given the conservative bent of the judicial system, that backstop no longer exists. Back in the day, besides immigrants, probably no one was happier that those anti-immigrant laws were blocked than Republican elected officials who saw the economic damage wreaked upon their states. Particularly in Alabama and Georgia, where crops rotted in the fields after panicked migrant workers fled their jobs and homes. So, DeSantis and the Florida Republican legislators pushing this legislation have no one to blame but themselves.
The Florida legislation has also been rebuked at the federal level in a statement from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The group’s vice-chair, Darren Soto, hails from the state. “Faith leaders, civil rights groups, chambers of commerce, and others have come out against these draconian measures because they will slow economic growth, reduce our workforce, hurt small businesses, drive up inflation, and deeply damage our international tourism,” Soto and chair Nanette Barragán said.
Not to mention hurting the diverse and vibrant communities that call Florida home. “Our question to Governor DeSantis is, ‘What sort of future are you fostering for Black Americans throughout Florida while eradicating our historical contributions to this nation,” State President Florida State Conference NAACP Board member Adora Obi Nweze asked. “Misrepresenting the reality of our history promotes ignorance and apathy.”