Migrant workers and advocates challenge Florida’s new immigration law

TALLAHASSEE, Florida. — 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, prosecution and harassment.”

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” who 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.

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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 may cover all immigrants, including people who are legally in the United States or who are in the process of seeking legal immigration status. The law does not define the term “checked” and does not explain what it means to be checked “from the moment” of entry,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote in the 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. Grandson K.A. 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.

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

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 transporting a vague category of immigrants to 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 challenging the Biden administration on immigration issues.

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 leading superpower in the world, and we cannot even control our own southern border. Mexican drug cartels have more to say about what’s happening on the southern border than our US government.”

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

The Senate bill’s author 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 point where we are now. We need to fix this… system. And they continue to refuse to do so. They will only act when they have to, and when an external force repels them. Florida is now that outside force,” Ingoglia told a Senate committee in March.

But a lawsuit filed on Monday asking a judge to declare the contested section of the law unconstitutional and block its enforcement, alleges 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 “harden the federal immigration system” by denying people living in neighboring states “with different immigration statuses” the ability to attend 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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