Civil-rights group issues Florida travel alert in response to DeSantis immigration crackdown

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One of the oldest Hispanic civil-rights groups in the United States issued a warning Wednesday advising immigrants not to travel to Florida and announced that it may take legal action against the state in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ most recent crackdown on immigration.

Earlier this month, DeSantis signed a bill that limits undocumented migrant labor, ends community-funded programs that give undocumented immigrants identification cards and toughens penalties against those who transport undocumented immigrants into the state.

The travel warning alerts immigrants and their families that traveling to the Sunshine State is dangerous and could pose a threat to their freedom, Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said in a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon. Founded in 1929, the civil-rights organization has led landmark lawsuits to fight segregation in schools, one of which ultimately became a key precedent for the case of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.

Florida’s law requires that hospitals track and report the immigration status of patients, that local governments withhold services from people who cannot provide proof of citizenship and that all employers with 25 or more employees verify the immigration status of most workers using the federal electronic system, E-Verify. Although most of the provisions in the law take effect July 1, the employer penalties do not take effect until July 1, 2024.

Only once before in its 94-year history has LULAC issued this level of travel-related alert, the organization says.

“If you bring your tía (aunt) to Disney World... to Miami or Universal Studios, they are going to charge you with a felony for bringing your undocumented friend or relative to Florida,” Garcia said. “Florida is a dangerous, hostile environment for law-abiding Americans and immigrants.”

Garcia also announced the launch of a campaign urging Florida residents to vote in 2024 against politicians who are using immigrants as a “political piñata.”

“There will be consequences to your racism, to your xenophobia, to your scapegoating and your fearmongering,” he said.

READ MORE: DeSantis signs immigration package as southern border political tensions escalate

Equality Florida, a Florida LGBTQ advocacy group, issued a similar alert in April, warning that going to Florida may pose a risk to people’s health, safety and freedom. And in March, Florida’s chapter of the NAACP recommended to its national board of directors that a travel advisory be issued for the state over how they say the governor’s policies are negatively affecting Black people.

What are immigration advocates saying?

Advocates say Florida is penalizing immigrants and their families — many of whom are essential workers in the the food, construction, tourism, health and education industries — for being born outside the U.S. and searching for prosperity.

LULAC says it’s taking “unprecedented action” in Florida following DeSantis’ “deliberate targeting of immigrants” through the signing into law of Senate Bill 1718 and that it won’t tolerate “acts of fearmongering, scapegoating, and immoral policies hurting Latinos that divide Americans for political gain.”

Lydia Guzman, LULAC’s immigration committee chair, said the law “opens the door for racial profiling,” drawing a parallel between Florida’s Senate Bill 1718 and Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, known by its opponents as the “Show me your papers law.”

READ MORE: Migrants seeking asylum or humanitarian parole face tech glitches, immigration uncertainty

The 2010 Arizona law originally allowed police to demand “papers” and investigate the immigration status of a person if they suspected individuals were undocumented. This provision of the law no longer exists thanks to lawsuits filed by immigrant rights groups. The law prompted LULAC to issue a travel warning to Arizona in 2010.

The new Florida law “opens the door to anyone that looks like me to be stopped and questioned if (they) have the authorization to be in this country,” Guzman said. “We will have to prove that, because of the color of our skin, we belong to this country.”

Guzman warned that the Florida law may harm the economy as people choose not to travel to Florida. Arizona’s SB 1070 also prompted a boycott, which translated into the immediate loss of millions of dollars to Arizona’s tourism industry, though it was a trivial amount compared to the state’s gross domestic product, according to the Arizona Republic.

“Laws like these that do nothing more than to harass immigrants are bad for a state’s economy,” Guzman said.

READ MORE: Florida judge blocks Biden from using emergency parole powers in post-Title 42 surge

The Florida law mandates any hospital that accepts Medicaid to include a question on its admission or registration forms inquiring about whether the patient is lawfully present in the U.S. and to submit quarterly reports to the state’s healthcare agency.

“Migrants will forgo medical attention,” Guzman said. “As that happens, people may die.”

What is DeSantis saying?

Last week, the Biden administration allowed to expire a Trump-era rule that authorized the U.S. to expeditiously turn away migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Immigration advocates and some elected officials blame the rule, known as Title 42, for a dramatic increase of migrants and asylum seekers at the border.

READ MORE: White House calls Florida migration ruling an act of ‘sabotage,’ says DOJ will fight

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Miami Herald’s emailed request for comment.

But in a press conference last week in Jacksonville, DeSantis said: “This is something that is the responsibility of Joe Biden. This is a responsibility that he has defaulted on really from day one of his presidency.... Obviously if we had a different administration it would be a lot easier to actually deal with the problem at its source.”

READ MORE: DeSantis to send troopers, guardsmen to Texas border in lead-up to presidential run

DeSantis said on Tuesday he will send state law enforcement officers to the southern border in Texas as the Republican governor prepares to launch a presidential campaign.

“That is unChristian; that is unAmerican,” Guzman said.