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What to Know About the GOP Bill That’s Putting Millions Toward DeSantis’ Migrant Relocation Program

4 minute read

The Florida legislature passed a bill Friday pledging $10 million to expand Republican Governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to relocate migrants and asylum seekers from anywhere in the U.S. to Democratically-controlled destinations.

DeSantis still has to sign the measure before it goes into effect, but it would open the door for more controversial moves, much like the conservative governor’s decision to fly 49 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, which many called a political stunt.

The bill, Senate bill 6-B, passed with a 77-34 vote in the Florida House and is expected to receive gubernatorial approval, but faces legal action and backlash from immigration reform advocates who allege that the policy treats migrants as political pawns. It would allow DeSantis to transport migrants, not just from Florida, but from anywhere in the country.

“The Legislature finds that the Federal Government has failed to secure the nation’s borders and has allowed a surge of inspected unauthorized aliens to enter the United States,” the bill says.

“Without such action detrimental effects may be experienced in Florida, including increased crime, diminished economic opportunities and wages for American workers, and burdens on the education and health care systems,” it adds.

Here’s what to know:

Controversy surrounding the bill

Democrats and activists are calling out the bill as highly unethical for its treatment of migrants, but also unreasonable since it aims to grant the state the right to transport migrants from any state, not just within Florida. Many condemned DeSantis’ move last year to charter two planes full of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard—a wealthy New England island community. Authorities on the island were shocked at the migrants arrival, lacking any notice or preparation.

Governors Greg Abbot of Texas and Katie Hobbs of Arizona have also organized sending bus loads of migrants to liberal sanctuaries like New York City and Washington, D.C., out of protest of border policies. Dozens of migrants were also dropped off outside of Vice President Kamala Harris’s home in D.C. on Christmas Eve.

Although some asylum seekers volunteer to take these trips, critics are against the politicization of transporting migrants.

“They are human beings, not chess pieces. Stop playing games with people’s lives,” state Rep. Christopher Benjamin said Friday on the Florida House floor.

Republicans argue that sending migrants to states and cities which are more equipped to process asylum-seekers is what’s best for the migrants, but are numerous accounts of migrants being misled about the location and opportunities that awaited them in the new city.

“They’re going to get more benefits in a sanctuary state or city than they would here, and we’re simply providing them with a free ticket,” Florida Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin said.

The $10 million from the bill would join the $12 million DeSantis already received for the migrant transportation program in the state’s yearly budget, according to Politico.

What’s likely to happen next?

Gov. DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law, but so far, little is known about how the program would operate, and it’s also likely to receive many legal challenges. One lawsuit has already begun, narrowing in on the language of the bill, questioning the legality of transporting migrants from outside of Florida.

Migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard last year also filed a class-action lawsuit against DeSantis and Florida officials and the D.C. attorney general is investigating the legality of the transports.

“The scheme by Gov. DeSantis and the state of Florida to use taxpayer funds for the ‘relocation’ of ‘unauthorized aliens’ is a blatant and unlawful attempt to harass immigrants at the state level,” Paul Chavez, an attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said last year when the lawsuit began.

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