DeSantis signs bills that he says will keep immigrants living in the US illegally from Florida

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bills Friday that increase the prison and jail sentences for immigrants who are living in the United States illegally if they are convicted of driving without a license or committing felonies.

DeSantis is a frequent critic of the Biden administration over its handling of the Mexican border, sending Florida law enforcement agents and National Guard members to Texas. The Republican governor, who ended his attempt for his party's presidential nomination last month, has also flown immigrants who entered Texas illegally to Massachusetts and California.

“We do not tolerate illegal immigration, let alone lawlessness committed by illegal aliens who shouldn’t be here in the first place. The bills I signed (Friday) further enhance Florida’s capabilities to uphold the law,” DeSantis said.

The governor tied the driver's license bill signed Friday to a Florida law that already bars immigrants in the country illegally from obtaining one. It increases the maximum sentence for anyone convicted of driving without a license twice or more from 60 days in jail to a year — this also applies to U.S. citizens and immigrants in the country legally.

Some immigrant support groups have criticized the bill, saying it endangers the public's safety as many immigrants barred from getting a license will still drive — they just won't have been tested or buy insurance. Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., issue driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“True safety is achieved through comprehensive measures such as driver education, issuing driver’s licenses to all qualified drivers, and access to insurance — not through punitive enforcement,” Renata Bozzetto of the Florida Immigrant Coalition said in a recent statement. "Rather than criminalizing individuals, the Republican legislature in Florida should work to invest in initiatives that promote driver safety, address disparities in the licensing process, and ensure equitable access to transportation for all residents.”

Another bill increases the maximum prison sentences for immigrants who are convicted of felonies after having been previously deported from the country for illegal entry.

For example, such immigrants convicted of low-level felonies like simple burglary or car theft would face a maximum sentence of 15 years instead of the five-year sentence that is the crime’s normal maximum. Such immigrants convicted of mid-level felonies like aggravated battery would face a maximum sentence of 30 years instead of the 15-year sentence that is those crimes’ normal maximum. And higher-level felonies like armed robbery could now carry a life sentence for such immigrants instead of the normal maximum sentence of 30 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Immigrant Coalition did not respond to requests for comment on this bill.