Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks in Iowa

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to voters on March 10, 2023 in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Rights Groups Sue Over Anti-Immigrant Florida Law 'Designed to Inflict Cruelty'

One critic called S.B. 1718 "an attempt to scapegoat and terrorize vulnerable families and workers already burdened by the difficulty of the federal immigration process and to pick a fight with the federal government."

Legal groups representing the Farmworker Association of Florida and impacted individuals on Monday filed a federal lawsuit in Miami challenging Senate Bill 1781, one of several far-right state laws pushed through this year by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis as he geared up for the GOP's 2024 presidential primary.

Signed by DeSantis in May, the measure "is unconstitutional, xenophobic, and will increase the unlawful racial profiling of Florida's Black and Brown communities," said Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Project—which filed the suit with the state and national ACLU as well as the American Immigration Council and Americans for Immigrant Justice.

"Admittedly designed to inflict cruelty, S.B. 1718 is unconstitutional and undermines our democracy," Chavez continued. "This lawsuit will vindicate all of our constitutional rights, and we remain committed to ensuring that immigrants are treated fairly, equally, and with dignity. Such an ugly attack on our immigrant community will not stand."

The new Florida law aims to crack down on the employment of undocumented immigrants and requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask on forms whether a patient is in the United States lawfully. It also expands the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's mission to include immigration matters, deems out-of-state driver's licenses issued to "unauthorized immigrants" invalid, and makes it a felony to transport into the state anyone who illegally entered the country.

As the American Immigration Council outlined in a series of tweets, this case focuses on the transportation portion of the law—though the group also emphasized that "Section 10 is just one part of S.B. 1718 that harms immigrant families."

"I'm suing because this law harms our family and many others. We aren't doing anything to hurt anyone. On the contrary, we're here working, paying taxes, and trying to provide a safe life for our families," said one of the individual plaintiffs, identified as MM. "Now we're scared to even travel together as a family. I would never want my son to face a felony for traveling with his mother and his sister. It makes no sense. We're family—how can this be?"

Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, general coordinator at the 12,000-member Farmworker Association of Florida, stressed that "not only is this law detrimental to our members' abilities to put food on their own tables, it is detrimental to our members' ability to put food on everyone's tables."

"Florida's S.B. 1718 is a self-inflicted wound—the product of short-sighted lawmakers unable to see beyond the most immediate political opportunity," Xiuhtecutli added. "Though the impact of similar anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia clearly foreshadowed its legal and economic fallout, S.B. 1718 was passed with little regard for the hardships those states have experienced."

Businesses and hospitals are currently sorting out how to comply with the law. Even before taking effect on July 1, S.B. 1718 was causing a worker exodus from the state, as Common Dreams reported last month. On the healthcare front, some attorneys and advocates are urging all patients to refuse to answer any questions about citizenship on paperwork.

"As news of the predictable damage inflicted on Florida by S.B. 1718 comes in, we are filing this lawsuit to stop its unconstitutional criminalization of the immigrant community in a state where one-fifth of the population was born abroad," Amien Kacou, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida, said Monday.

"This legislation is not the solution to any problem," Kacou asserted. "It is an attempt to scapegoat and terrorize vulnerable families and workers already burdened by the difficulty of the federal immigration process and to pick a fight with the federal government in order to serve the ambitions of a few politicians."

Evelyn Wiese, litigation attorney with Americans for Immigrant Justice, declared that "there's no denying the viciousness and inhumanity of this xenophobic new law. But Gov. DeSantis and his anti-immigrant allies in the Florida Legislature should make no mistake: When they attempt to flout the Constitution, we will fight back."
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