House panel ignores calls to rethink Governor DeSantis’ latest immigration crackdown

A 12-year-old from Honduras and Mexico on Thursday urged a House committee to say no to legislation requiring law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials and denying contracts to companies that transport asylum-seeking children.

“Why do you attack children who look like me? wondered Zachary Olivos, who lives in Gainesville.

“Children who are only children? We are not criminals. We are just children. With all due respect, why is the Florida House even considering laws that target children? What have these children done to you?

In a majority partisan vote of 12 to 5, the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety voted to ignore that call, instead siding with Governor Ron DeSantis in his latest attack on asylum seekers. and the Biden administration’s immigration policies.

The bill’s sponsor, John Snyder, a Republican representing parts of Marion and Palm Beach counties, urged his colleagues not to fall prey to such sympathetic appeals. People come not just from Central America and Mexico, but from “all corners of the world who know that if you can get to Mexico, there’s an open ticket,” he explained.

State Representative John Snyder. Credit: FL House

“I understand that there are a lot of people who like to do sound bites to show they’re standing up to the executive office,” Snyder said.

“But we all raised our right hands and took an oath to uphold not only the Constitution of the State of Florida, but also the Constitution of the United States. And we know, in complete dereliction of duty, that the federal government allowed the southern border to be an open waterway.

The bill would prohibit state and local governments from contracting or offering economic incentives to common carriers, i.e. air or ground transportation, “deliberately providing any service for the purpose of transporting an alien unauthorized in the State of Florida knowing that the unauthorized alien has entered or remains in the United States in violation of the law.It would also reinforce requirements that local jails cooperate with immigration and customs regarding undocumented detainees.

DeSantis urged the Legislature in December to pass the crackdown. Running for re-election this year, and possibly for president in 2024, he attacked President Joe Biden for mercy flights of unaccompanied, undocumented minors to Florida for placement in child shelters or with sponsors, and the state has filed a federal lawsuit seeking an end to the practice.

The Senate version (SB 1808) has already been approved by the Judiciary Committee and is pending before the Appropriations Committee.

Presidential aspirations

On the House committee, Democrat Michael Grieco of Miami-Dade County noted that no law enforcement agency had sent anyone to support legislation ostensibly strengthening crime prevention.

“I’m on the bill for about 100 reasons, but I would have liked to hear from someone from a police department, sheriff’s department, organization who thought this was a good idea “, said Greico.

Orange County’s Geraldine Thompson argued that the state doesn’t have corporations that legislate immigration policy — that’s the job of Congress. “It’s a pretext for a presidential election and it’s beyond what we’re supposed to do as state legislators,” she said.

Andrew Learned, a Democrat from Hillsborough, agreed that the measure is “to satisfy the governor’s Twitter trolls and his presidential ambitions.”

But James Bush III, another Democrat representing part of Miami-Dade, speaking in favor of the bill, referenced reports “of children being used as pawns to smuggle people into the country.”

“At some point, we are going to have to raise the bar. If we don’t address it now, we will continue to apply a band-aid approach to this issue,” he said.

Republican Mike Beltran, also of Hillsborough County, also backed the legislation.

“We have companies that are conspiring, unfortunately, with our federal government to violate our law. If it was done by a private company alone, they would be indicted by any conscientious American attorney,” Beltran said.

Snyder admitted he doesn’t know how many contractors we’re talking about. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” blaming federal authorities for not releasing the information to state and local law enforcement.

“Do we ban something that doesn’t exist?” Thompson asked.

“Do we have a list of known offenders? We don’t have that right now,” Snyder said. “While we will certainly work to find that out, I think it is also a proactive measure, to try to really do everything we can within the limits of our powers as a state to try to curb this harmful behavior.”

He insisted the bill would not target “faith-based” organizations that help asylum seekers and refugees unless they qualify as a common carrier. Nor would it apply to Afghan refugees fleeing the country because of the assistance they provided to US and allied forces there, he said.

Jennifer Molina, Zachary’s mother, also appeared, describing herself as a Honduran immigrant. She was among a number of speakers who read letters written by people flown to the United States in the early 1960s from Cuba, and who urged committee members to vote no.

Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, the ACLU of Florida, and the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches opposed the bill.

So did Maxwell Frost, a community organizer running for Congress in the Orlando area, who called him “immoral.”

Lobbyist Karen Woodall speaks at a Capitol press conference. Photo via Twitter

A veteran social justice lobbyist, Karen Woodall of the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, thanked Snyder for not calling these people ‘illegal aliens’ – ‘as ​​has often been done and it’s a little offensive “.

“Children who arrive at the border alone, who are placed on planes or buses, have gone through a process, and the Department of HHS is required by federal law to receive and transport them. Transportation is not illegal,” Woodall said.

“So the whole conversation about the planes coming in and the smuggling of children and it’s in the middle of the night – it’s not right, and it’s meant to inflame this whole issue,” she said. declared.

“Common practice”

Ida Eskamani, representing the Florida Immigrant Coalition, made this point.

“These thefts are routine practices. Flights transferring migrants, including undocumented children, have taken place during several presidential administrations, including that of President Donald Trump,” Eskamani said.

“These thefts take place at night so as not to hide from anyone. These are public airports. They are at night for logistics.

Ashley Hamill, director of the Immigration and Farmworker Project at the FSU College of Law, which represents immigrants with legal issues, including unaccompanied children, some as young as 7, spoke against the bill.

“The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act requires the federal government to reunite unaccompanied minors with their parents and families, in order to protect them from human trafficking and child abuse,” said she declared.

The bill’s definition of “unauthorized alien” would apply to these children because, under federal law, they cannot seek asylum until they are reunited with their family or placed with them. from caregivers such as the FSU clinic, Catholic Charities or Lutheran Services, Hamill mentioned.

She noted that 200 religious leaders have called on DeSantis to reverse his policy of denying state contracts to organizations that house migrant children under contracts with the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“The common carrier provision of this bill punishes private companies for contracting with the federal government to transport these vulnerable children and is directly related to these executive orders,” Hamill said.

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