The state of Florida combined its war on education with its battle against immigrant children this week in Senate Bill 1718, which targets Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) youths seeking law licenses in the state.
“It’s completely cruel. You have to ask yourself what harm does a law license do? What message does it send other than ‘we don’t agree with federal laws and we don’t like you here,’” said retired immigration attorney Margaret O’Donnell, who founded Global Law Advocates of Seattle. “It’s just cruelty. I can’t think of any good public gain from a law like that. It says we want kids who were brought to the U.S. as children—of no volition of their own—to have low level jobs because we don’t want them in college, and we shouldn’t be supporting their dreams.”
The DACA program, made possible by the 2001 DREAM Act, allows young people brought by their parents to the U.S. to continue to live and work in the only country they have likely ever called home. Young people impacted by DACA and the DREAM Act are often referred to as “Dreamers,” and the U.S. government claims “DACA has brought stability, possibility, and progress to more than 800,000 Dreamers.”
Senate Bill 1718 removes the possibility of a law degree for certain Florida residents, however, because Florida senators apparently don’t think they deserve it.
The bill doesn’t stop there. It is similar to bills passed by white legislators in Mississippi in that it converts anyone who “reasonably” knows someone to be an undocumented immigrant into an immigration enforcer, whether they want to be one or not. The bill makes it a felony to give someone you know or “should know” to be undocumented a job, or shelter, or even a ride. Under SB 1718, such behavior is punishable by up to 15 years in prison if the immigrant is a minor, and five if they’re an adult.
The bill also requires hospital staff to act as immigration enforcers by demanding they confirm patients’ immigration status and the size of their medical bill. It also criminalizes doctors, nurses, or assistants if they say nothing to immigration and customs and just do their lifesaving jobs.
Also, like Mississippi-style anti-immigrant laws, Senate Bill 1718 makes it a felony for a job applicant to use false identification to obtain work, and it punishes employers who don’t use the federal E-Verify program to check immigrants’ resident status. The bill ignores the fact that E-Verify doesn’t catch undocumented workers who use good Social Security numbers in the federal database, however. It also disregards the fact that there are organizations and professional “job finders” who are very good at mining databases for valid Social Security numbers. The system failed to catch 12 million undocumented workers hired between 2006 and 2019. However, it allows Florida politicians to convey an image of being hard on illegal immigration without inconveniencing any business friends who hire immigrant workers.
The bill’s attack on immigrant students, however, deserves special attention. Not only does it remove law licenses eligibility for students, but it also bans out-of-state tuition waivers for undocumented students at Florida colleges and universities, and it invalidates out-of-state licenses given to undocumented immigrants from states such as California.
Critics say the bill is so mean-spirited and hateful to youth that it could potentially alienate the GOP from Florida Latinos and Hispanics just as California’s Proposition 187 helped toss the California GOP into the wilderness for years to come. Young California Latinos, incensed by the racist 1994 ballot initiative, stormed out of schools and registered to vote in droves to effectively end GOP influence in California.
Florida is a different world from California, however. Florida is the place where Racist Grampa goes to die, and Florida Latinos do not easily identify with immigrants. They supported Gov. DeSantis in his most recent election. An NBC News exit poll found DeSantis won 58% of the Latino vote, “including 68% of Cuban Americans, 56% of Puerto Ricans, and 53% of all other Latinos combined.”
“It’s not California,” O’Donnell told Black Girl Times. “We just don’t know how far voters are willing to let the legislature go on this.”