Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed into law a multi-pronged immigration bill that will increase funds for his state’s controversial relocation programme, as well as heighten barriers for undocumented migrants and asylum seekers trying to access healthcare and employment.
The bill comes as DeSantis gears up for an anticipated presidential run in the United States that would likely pit him against former president and current Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.
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At a signing ceremony on Wednesday in Jacksonville, Florida’s most populous city, DeSantis took aim at another 2024 presidential contender, Democratic incumbent Joe Biden. He spoke from a lectern emblazoned with the phrase “Biden’s border crisis”, echoing complaints Republicans have made against the Democrat’s immigration policies.
“We’re bracing for some turbulent times ahead,” DeSantis said at the event. “You’re likely to see it get a lot worse.”
The new immigration package includes requirements that hospitals collect data on the migration status of patients using Medicaid, a federal health programme for low-income households. It also mandates that companies with more than 25 employees use E-Verify, which checks whether a job applicant can legally work in the US.
“Florida is penalising immigrants for having the sheer bad luck of being born in countries that are in turmoil and having the courage to seek peace and prosperity here,” Tessa Petit, head of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said in a statement.
DeSantis has yet to announce a presidential run but is seen as likely to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. A recent YouGov poll found that Trump currently leads DeSantis by about 36 points among Republican primary voters.
The Florida governor has sought to burnish his conservative credentials by taking a hard line on immigration. The new legislation includes funds for DeSantis to continue a practice of shipping immigrants and asylum seekers elsewhere in the country, using buses and flights.
Critics have decried the practice as a cruel political stunt, saying the migrants are often given little information about their destination and few resources once they arrive.
The practice received widespread attention in September, when approximately 50 undocumented arrivals were flown from San Antonio, Texas, to the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard in Democrat-led Massachusetts under orders from DeSantis.
“Instead of using people as political pawns, he should be focused on the job in Florida,” Florida Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book said in a statement on Wednesday.
DeSantis has insisted that the practice is meant to underline criticism of Biden’s border policies, which he blames for record levels of irregular migration.
“Florida will not be a sanctuary state that allows for illegal aliens to usurp our laws,” DeSantis said in a Twitter post on Wednesday.
The governor has also leaned into the kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric that Trump has made central to his appeal to Republican voters. Speakers at Wednesday’s bill-signing ceremony, for instance, highlighted crimes committed by people without legal immigration status.