Federal lawsuit challenges new Florida immigration law

TALLAHASSEE – Migrant workers and their lawyers on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging part of a new Florida law that makes it a felony to transport people who enter the country illegally into the state, arguing that the law is vague and will lead to “unlawful arrests, prosecutions and prosecutions.” “. .”

The law, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is part of a series of measures taken by the state’s Republican leaders in recent years against immigrants entering the country from Mexico.

The measure, passed during the legislative session this spring, included changes to the human smuggling law to make it a felony to bring into the state a person “who the person knows or reasonably should know” entered the country illegally.

The law imposes fines on people who are transporting an immigrant who “entered the United States in violation of the law and has not been subject to scrutiny by the federal government since his or her illegal entry.”

People can be charged with a second-degree felony for every violation of the law.

But the lawsuit, filed on Monday in Miami, argued that what is known as “Section 10” of the law does not include the definition of “tested” and is thus “hopelessly vague and incoherent.”

“Section 10 is worded in such a way that it can cover all immigrants, including people who are legally in the United States or who are in the process of seeking legal immigration status. do not explain what it means to be checked “from the moment” of entry,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in a 33-page complaint.

The plaintiffs include the Florida Farm Workers Association, Inc., as well as migrant workers and attorneys named by their initials.

For example, one of the plaintiffs, who works for a non-profit organization, helps bring immigrants from Georgia to Jacksonville to meet with USCIS officials.

The other plaintiff, identified as “CA,” is a US citizen who lives in Miami and is the legal guardian of his grandson, who was brought to the US by his mother “who fled the country in fear for her life.” to the legal process.

CA’s grandson is in the process of applying for so-called “special immigrant minor status” and he and his mother had “no contact with federal immigration authorities” when they entered the US, the lawsuit says.

Several plaintiffs, including California, traveled frequently to other states to visit family members or to take seasonal jobs as migrant workers before the law went into effect on July 1.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the law “causes enormous damage to people’s ability to lead daily lives.”

The law can prevent friends and family members from visiting each other, prevent parents from seeking medical care for their children, and prevent church members from bringing their fellows to worship, the lawsuit says.

The law “puts thousands of Floridians and out-of-state residents, citizens and non-citizens alike, at risk of being arrested, charged, and prosecuted for bringing a vague category of immigrants into Florida,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. .

The lawsuit also argued that state law would “usurp powers constitutionally vested exclusively in the federal government.”

“This federal structure is all-encompassing and does not allow for parallel or additional state immigration laws, including laws on smuggling and smuggling of non-citizens,” the lawsuit says.

The Florida law “impedes the federal immigration scheme by preventing immigrants from entering Florida.

And that puts government officials in an illegitimate position when making difficult decisions about people’s immigration status and history,” plaintiffs’ attorneys added.

DeSantis, the 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, has focused on immigration issues on the southern border with Mexico as one of his top concerns since he was first elected governor in 2018.

For the past several years, the state has filed lawsuits against the Biden administration over its handling of immigration.

The governor also made national headlines with Florida-sponsored charter flights that brought migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last September and to Sacramento, California in June.

Alianza Americas and other plaintiffs have filed a potential class action lawsuit challenging flights to Massachusetts.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed on Monday, are represented by lawyers from several immigration and civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans for Immigration Justice and the American Immigration Council.

The new law (SB 1718) also includes changes such as requiring businesses with more than 25 employees to use the federal E-Verify system to verify employees’ immigration status.

At a bill signing ceremony in May, DeSantis criticized federal immigration policy.

“It’s just chaos,” DeSantis told supporters in Jacksonville. “We should be the world’s leading superpower, but we can’t even control our own southern border. The Mexican drug cartels have more to say about what’s happening on the southern border than our own US government.”

The lawsuit pointed to comments by DeSantis and his allies about the proposed immigration changes.

The bill’s sponsor in the Senate, Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, “stated the need” for the law as an “outside force” that would force the federal government to “fix the problem,” the lawsuit says.

“This is the moment we are in right now. We must fix this system. And they keep refusing to do so. They will only act when they need to and when an external force resists. “, Ingoglia told a Senate committee in March.

But Monday’s lawsuit, which asks a judge to declare the contested section of the law unconstitutional and block its enforcement, argues that the changes would put the Florida Farm Workers Association, which transports migrants interstate, at risk of “wrongful arrest, prosecution.” and harassment.”

The law would also “obstruct the federal immigration system” by preventing people living in neighboring states “with different immigration statuses” from traveling to immigration courts and other meetings with federal agencies in Florida, the lawsuit says.

The law is “unconstitutionally vague because it fails to provide a person of ordinary knowledge with fair notice of what is prohibited and because it permits and encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement,” plaintiffs’ attorneys argued.

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