News from State and Local Operations (NL2304)
The legislative session for the nation’s third largest state is a short one, running from March until early May. When it comes to immigration matters, the motto for the 2023 session seems to be, ‘Go big before we go home.’ Even before the Legislature convened in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis laid out an ambitious list of immigration measures he wanted lawmakers to tackle. These include: Increasing penalties for human smuggling; mandatory E-Verify; banning locally-issued IDs for illegal aliens and refusing to honor driver’s licenses issued to illegal aliens in other states; eliminating authorization for illegal aliens to practice law in Florida; ending in-state tuition benefits for illegal aliens; and tightening existing anti-sanctuary laws.
The governor’s priorities were packaged into two bills, Senate Bill 1718 and House Bill 1617, which were introduced on the first day of the legislative session, March 7. A week later, on March 15, SB 1718 was voted favorably out of the Senate Rules Committee by a 15-5 vote, along party lines and was referred to the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. As of completion of this edition of the FAIR Immigration Report, the House had not taken action on its version of the bill.
FAIR has worked closely with immigration reform activists and legislators in Florida to promote this list of legislative reforms that would cement Florida as the leader in commonsense immigration policies aimed at discouraging illegal immigration. With Republican super-majorities in both chambers, Gov. DeSantis’ immigration agenda should have little trouble making it across the finish line before the Legislature adjourns on May 5.
No state has more directly borne the impact of the Biden Border Crisis than Texas. The state has spearheaded numerous successful lawsuits against the Biden non-enforcement policies (which the administration has largely ignored), taken steps on its own to secure the border, and facilitated the transfer of migrants to sanctuary states that claim to welcome illegal aliens. In the current session of the Texas legislature – which meets only every other year – lawmakers are testing the limits to which states can act to protect themselves against mass illegal immigration, when the federal government refuses to honor its responsibility to secure our borders.
A bill introduced in the Texas House, HB 20, would create a Border Protection Unit under a director appointed by the governor. This agency would coordinate and spearhead all of Texas’ efforts regarding the border, and illegal immigration. It would also have the authority to arrest, detain and “repel” illegal aliens back across the border. The bill declares that “[t]he Legislature, acting with the governor, has the solemn duty to protect and defend the citizens of Texas” against the imminent danger posed by the ongoing border crisis.
In the Texas Senate, SB 2424 would make unlawfully crossing an international border into Texas a state crime, punishable by up to a year in jail for a first offense, two years for a second or subsequent offense, and up to life in prison for convicted felons. The bill would also specifically authorize law enforcement to arrest and prosecute anyone anywhere in the state for this crime. Both the House and the Senate bill would likely be signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
These bills appear expressly designed to test the constitutional limits of state authority regarding immigration law and the extent of federal preemption, which was last addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona v. United States in 2012, parts of which were struck down. Given the current administration’s overt refusal to carry out its duties to secure the border and protect the states, as well as the current composition of the Supreme Court, supporters of these bills believe that they would pass judicial muster.
While Florida and Texas are working to make themselves less attractive to illegal immigration, Minnesota has moved in the opposite direction. On March 7, Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation making Minnesota the 19th state to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. At the signing ceremony, Gov. Walz declared, “We’re going to erase 20 years of a bad policy and lift up the dignity of all Minnesota.” The “bad policy” Walz was referring to was adopted after the attacks of 9/11, in which terrorist who were illegally in the United States used state-issued driver’s licenses to facilitate those attacks. So apparently, in the estimation of the Minnesota Legislature and governor, making driver’s licenses available to anyone who shows up and passes a driving test constitutes “good policy.”