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Gov. Ron DeSantis signs an immigration overhaul for Florida

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference in Miami to sign several bills related to public education and increases in teacher pay on May 9, 2023.
Rebecca Blackwell
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference in Miami to sign several bills related to public education and increases in teacher pay on May 9, 2023.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed into law a sweeping immigration bill that bolsters his migrant relocation program and limits social services for immigrants lacking permanent legal status — key political priorities of the Republican as he prepares to launch a presidential campaign.

The signing came a day before the expiration of coronavirus restrictions on asylum that have allowed the U.S. to quickly expel migrants at the southern border for the last three years, a policy known as Title 42.

DeSantis, who is expected to announce his presidential candidacy in the coming weeks, has made hardening Florida's immigration laws a top priority as he heaves criticism on federal border policy and takes a hard-right stance geared toward Republican primary voters.

“We're bracing for some turbulent times ahead," DeSantis said at a bill signing ceremony in Jacksonville, adding, "You're likely to see it get a lot worse.”

The law provides $12 million for DeSantis’ migrant relocation initiative, which drew national attention last year when the governor flew a group of South American migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, a move intended to protest federal immigration policy.

It also expands requirements for businesses with more than 25 staffers to use E-Verify, a federal system that determines if employees can legally work in the U.S. And it prohibits local governments from providing money to organizations that issue identification cards to immigrants lacking permanent legal status in the country and invalidates out-of-state driver’s licenses held by people living in the country illegally.

Another provision requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to include a citizenship question on intake forms, which critics have said is intended to dissuade immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from seeking medical care.

DeSantis has made illegal immigration a key priority of his administration as he heaves heavy criticism on Democratic President Joe Biden's border policy. At the governor's Wednesday bill-signing ceremony, DeSantis and others spoke from behind a lectern that read “Biden’s Border Crisis." Multiple speakers at the event detailed crimes committed by immigrants lacking legal status.

This week, the DeSantis administration made public that it had selected three vendors it intends to use for the governor's migrant relocation program, suggesting that additional flights or relocations are likely. One of the vendors is the same aviation company DeSantis' office used for the flight to Martha's Vineyard. A spokeswoman for the governor's division of emergency management, where the migrant relocation program is housed, said contracts with the vendors are still being negotiated.

“Instead of using people as political pawns, he should be focused on the job in Florida," Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said in a statement after the signing. "This bill is a misguided, dysfunctional and disingenuous way to deal with a problem the federal government should be in charge of fixing.”

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The Associated Press