Florida Special Session Expands Program to Transport Illegal Aliens to Sanctuary Jurisdictions
FAIR Take | February 2023
In a quickly-called special session, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill to formalize and significantly expand the state’s efforts to transport illegal aliens throughout the country to sanctuary cities and states. Previously, Governor DeSantis has bused or flown illegal aliens to a number of localities, most notably to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Florida’s regular legislative session will not convene until March 7, but legislative leaders and the governor determined a special session was needed to address several urgent matters, including illegal immigration that continues to be exacerbated by the Biden Administration’s open-borders policies. House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) described the ongoing border crisis as “a terrible, terrible situation all brought on by the lack of leadership at the federal level.”
Special Session 2023B convened on February 6. At that time, House Bill (HB) 5B, sponsored by Representative John Snyder (R-Stuart), and Senate Bill (SB) 6B, by Senator Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), were introduced. The identical companion bills would:
- create the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program within the state’s Division of Emergency Management (DEM) to voluntarily transport aliens, who have already been processed and released by the federal government (“inspected aliens”), anywhere in the United States;
- authorize the DEM to adopt administrative rules to implement the program;
- authorize the DEM to directly contract for services to implement the program rather than the state’s Department of Management Services;
- allow the DEM to bypass much of the state’s competitive procurement/contract bidding laws in order to implement the program;
- appropriate $10 million to fund the program; and
- set a June 30, 2025, expiration date for the program unless renewed by the legislature.
Both bills moved rapidly through the legislative process. SB 6B passed the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on February 7 and then the full Senate the next day along a party-line vote with all 12 Democrats opposing. The House version, HB 5B, passed the House Appropriations Committee on February 6 and the House Judiciary Committee on February 8. However, the House decided to consider the Senate version on the House floor. SB 6B passed the House on February 9, by a vote of 77-34, with Rep. Mike Beltran (R-Lithia) the only Republican to join all the Democrats in opposition.
While debating the bill on the House floor, Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin (R-Kendall) explained that the program would actually benefit both Florida and the illegal aliens themselves, who would only be transported voluntarily, saying “[t]hey’re going to get more benefits in the sanctuary state or city than they would here, and we’re simply providing them with a free ticket.”
The Senate bill’s sponsor Sen. Ingoglia stressed the same point, namely that “[t]his bill allows for voluntary transport of inspected aliens to places around the country, to sanctuary cities and states who have allocated resources for these purposes,” adding, “[t]he state of Florida has not and never will be a sanctuary state.”
Democrats in both chambers tried unsuccessfully to amend the bills to weaken or slow them down.
Signing the bill on February 15, Governor DeSantis said he “would love to not have to deal with this at all. But you have a total disaster that’s unfolded on that border for over two years. You’ve had millions and millions of people come across illegally from over 100 different countries. Nobody knows who the folks are. We have no idea what they’re going to do when they get here.” Commenting on Twitter he added, “Florida is using all tools available to protect our citizens from Biden’s open border policies.”