Jul 19, 2023Immigration, farmworker groups sue Florida over SB 1718
Farmworker and legal organizations have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Florida’s new anti-immigrant law, Senate Bill 1718.
The groups, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, Americans for Immigrant Justice and American Immigration Council, filed the lawsuit July 17 on behalf of the Farmworker Association of Florida and various impacted individuals, including U.S. citizens and undocumented drivers and passengers who routinely travel into and out of Florida.
The lawsuit focuses on the provisions outlined in Section 10 of the law, which criminalizes the transportation of individuals into Florida who may have entered the country unlawfully and have not been “inspected” by the federal government since. The complaint states that it is unconstitutional for a state to unilaterally regulate federal immigration and subject people to criminal punishment without fair notice and that Florida’s use of the term “inspection” is incoherent and unconstitutionally vague, according to a news release.
“Section 10 is only one of a host of new laws within SB 1718 that harm Florida immigrants and their families and seeks to target and intimidate immigrant families in every facet of their lives,” according to the release. “The law inhibits and intimidates immigrant Floridians seeking health care, expands E-Verify requirements and penalties on businesses, prohibits local government funding of new community identification cards, and invalidates certain driver’s licenses from states like Connecticut, Vermont, Delaware and Hawaii.”
The lawsuit was filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida statewide prosecutor Nicholas Cox and the attorneys general for all 20 Florida judicial circuits.
“This harmful anti-immigrant bill is unconstitutional, xenophobic and will increase the unlawful racial profiling of Florida’s Black and Brown communities,” Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project, said in the release. “Admittedly designed to inflict cruelty, SB 1718 is unconstitutional and undermines our democracy. This lawsuit will vindicate all of our constitutional rights, and we remain committed to ensuring that immigrants are treated fairly, equally and with dignity. Such an ugly attack on our immigrant community will not stand.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.
“The Farmworker Association of Florida is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our 12,000 members to challenge this hateful law,” Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, FWAF general coordinator, said in the release. “Not only is this law detrimental to our members’ abilities to put food on their own tables, it is detrimental to our members’ ability to put food on everyone’s tables. Florida’s SB 1718 is a self-inflicted wound — the product of short-sighted lawmakers unable to see beyond the most immediate political opportunity. Though the impact of similar anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia clearly foreshadowed its legal and economic fallout, SB 1718 was passed with little regard for the hardships those states have experienced.”
“I’m suing because this law harms our family and many others. We aren’t doing anything to hurt anyone,” Individual Plaintiff 1 MM said in the release. “On the contrary, we’re here working, paying taxes and trying to provide a safe life for our families. Now we’re scared to even travel together as a family. I would never want my son to face a felony for traveling with his mother and his sister. It makes no sense. We’re family — how can this be?”
Gov. DeSantis made immigration reform a key point of his campaigns, according to abcactionnews.com. The law increases penalties for knowingly hiring or transporting undocumented in the state, requires hospitals to track immigration status, voids out-of-state driver’s licenses for undocumented workers and ends funding of a migrant relocation program.
The law is to deter illegal immigration in the Sunshine State by cutting incentives, according to the bill’s supporters.
“We’re protecting Floridians with the full extent of our powers to do that,” DeSantis said in May, according to abcactionnews.com. “But it’s sad. It’s sad to see what’s happened. It’s sad to see these images of the lawlessness.”
Legal observers believe plaintiffs possess a solid legal question and suggest Florida may have overstepped its authority.
“States have major powers, except in areas of the law that are of exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Government,” one legal expert told abcactionnews.com. “And immigration enforcement and control is one of them.”
Evelyn Wiese, litigation attorney with Americans for Immigrant Justice, stated this in the release:
“SB 1718 is an attack on Florida’s immigrant community and on the rights of all Floridians, who count immigrants among their family members, neighbors, coworkers and friends,” she said in the release. “By making it a felony for anyone to travel into the state with immigrants who fall into a broad and not-clearly-defined category, Section 10 is both extreme and unconstitutional. There’s no denying the viciousness and inhumanity of this xenophobic new law. But Governor DeSantis and his anti-immigrant allies in the Florida Legislature should make no mistake: when they attempt to flout the Constitution, we will fight back. Florida has a long and proud history of welcoming immigrants into the state. Now, we are proud to stand with members of Florida’s immigrant community in fighting to protect their — and all Floridians’ — constitutional rights.”
“Florida’s attempt to regulate federal immigration law violates the rights and dignity of all individuals in the state and harms immigrant families,” Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council, said in the release. “Criminalizing transportation without federal ‘inspection’ and subjecting individuals to vague definitions is both unconstitutional and unfair. This ill-advised legislation not only singles out immigrants and their families but also poses a threat to the social and economic well-being of Florida’s communities. We stand firm in our commitment to uphold the rights and dignity of every individual in the state, regardless of their immigration status. Unity and fairness must triumph over fear and hostility.”