A coalition of groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court over Florida’s recently enacted immigration law, specifically challenging the section of the law that makes it a felony for individuals to transport an undocumented immigrant across state lines as being unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the ACLU Foundation of Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans for Immigrant Justice and the American Immigration Council filed the 35-page lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami on Monday, on behalf of The Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), a community-based farmworker organization based in Apopka that has nearly 12,000 members.
“This harmful anti-immigrant bill is unconstitutional, xenophobic and will increase the unlawful racial profiling of Florida’s Black and Brown communities,” said Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “Admittedly designed to inflict cruelty, SB 1718 is unconstitutional and undermines our democracy. This lawsuit will vindicate all of our constitutional rights, and we remain committed to ensuring that immigrants are treated fairly, equally and with dignity. Such an ugly attack on our immigrant community will not stand,” according to a statement.
The lawsuit says that “many of FWAF’s members will be directly harmed by Section 10, as they either transport people into the state of Florida whose immigration status could trigger a felony charge under Section 10, or they themselves have the immigration status that could trigger such a felony charge, and therefore may be unable to receive transportation.”
The suit also lists nine individuals (only by their initials) who could potentially be exposed to felony charges because part of their jobs are to transport individuals “with various immigration status” across state lines into Florida.
One of them, only listed as “J.L.,” works as a field coordinator for a Florida nonprofit group whose duties include traveling outside the state approximately five times a year for trainings, conferences and workshops dealing with leadership, activism and workers’ rights. “During her trips, she often drives passengers, some of whom are immigrants, including undocumented immigrants,” the suit says.
Section 10 in SB 1718 imposes criminal penalties on a person who transports an immigrant who “entered the United States in violation of law and has not been inspected by the Federal Government since his or her unlawful entry.”
The attorneys argue in their filing that Section 10 is “phrased in a way that could sweep in all manner of immigrants, including people who are lawfully present in the United States or are in the process of seeking lawful immigration status. The statute does not define the term ‘inspected’ and does not explain what it means to be inspected ‘since’ entry.”
SB 1718 imposes a number of provisions to crack down on undocumented immigrants in Florida, including requiring businesses with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify system for new employees; requiring hospitals to include a question on its admission forms inquiring whether a patient is a U.S. citizen and a measure banning undocumented immigrants from driving a car in the state even if they have a driver’s license from another state.
The case was filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Florida Statewide Prosecutor Nicholas B. Cox and the attorneys general for all 20 Florida Judicial Circuits.
–Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix