Florida lawmakers have approved an expansion of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ relocation program for illegal immigrants, handing him the authority to transport such individuals from anywhere to anywhere in the country, including to blue states.
In a special session, Florida’s House of Representatives voted along party lines on Feb. 10 to expand DeSantis’ effort to relocate unauthorized immigrants located in any state to any jurisdiction in the United States.
The bill establishes the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program within the Division of Emergency Management, expanding on a program DeSantis enacted last year that enabled officials to fly illegal immigrants to blue states that have sanctuary policies in place.
Besides explicitly granting DeSantis the transport powers, the bill also allocates $10 million for the program, while also stating that money spent in the past on immigrant relocation efforts are “deemed approved.” This bolsters the governor’s position in the face of possible legal challenges.
Last year, DeSantis used taxpayer funds to fly dozens of illegal immigrants from Texas to the wealthy enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, which he said was a response to the Biden administration’s failed policies on immigration.
Democrats decried the move as a political stunt, with Florida state Sen. Jason Pizzo suing DeSantis as a private citizen, claiming the governor misused taxpayer money. Since the newly-passed bill addresses the issue of past allocation of taxpayer funds to prior relocation efforts, it could potentially nullify the lawsuit.
The bill, which now heads to DeSantis’ desk for a signature, was opposed by state Democrats.
“This bill is indefensible,” Florida state Rep. Christopher Benjamin, a Democrat, said on the House floor. “Stop playing games with people’s lives.”
Republican lawmakers contended that the bill will help people who voluntarily want to travel to so-called sanctuary cities get there.
“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,” said Florida state Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Republican.