Local nonprofit leaders are working to inform immigrants about provisions in a new immigration law that among other things, is stripping funding for an ID program in Alachua County.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 1718 into law on May 10, instituting a handful of new procedures and designating $12 million for his Unauthorized Alien Transport program, which sends undocumented immigrants to sanctuary cities around the country. It passed along party lines in both the House and Senate.
“We will force the federal government to react because, unfortunately, the federal government is not listening, and they won't listen until the states finally stand up and do something,” said state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, who called the bill a model for other states.
Local nonprofit leaders share frustrations with the federal government’s approach to immigration, but some think the state bill does more harm than good.
“I think that it's just going to backfire,” said Robin Lewy, director for the nonprofit Rural Women’s Health Project in Alachua County. “But the pain in the process is what concerns us.”
Lewy, whose organization connects local immigrants to community resources, said the bill has been deflated from the original language but still packs a punch.
Under the bill, the city of Gainesville and Alachua County will be prevented from continuing to fund the Human Rights Coalition of Alachua County’s community ID program. Both local governments recognize it as valid identification to use for programs.
The program started four years ago and Veronica Robleto, program director, said the group has issued 1,300 ID cards.
The community ID, based on a national model out of North Carolina, specifically helps those with trouble accessing state-issued identification. Robleto said that includes homeless individuals, citizens recently released from incarceration and the immigrant community.
Some use it at food banks, to pick up children from the public school system or interacting with law enforcement.
The city and county also provided the funds for Robleto to be hired as a full-time staffer—the first for the nonprofit. With the immigration bill preventing local funding for ID programs, Robleto said the group will continue the ID program on its own and hopes the local commissions will fund other projects instead.
“We are equally as frustrated with the federal government as to the lack of immigration reform, and any kind of solutions that have been brought forth,” Robleto said. “But this is really not the way to go about it. It's really targeting people who live and work in Florida and are here trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
Another section of SB 1718 says Florida will not recognize special driver’s licenses that 16 states and Washington, D.C., issue to undocumented immigrants.
The bill also places a third-degree felony charge on anyone who transports an undocumented immigrant into the state. The law says this applies if the transporter knew or “reasonably should know” that the passenger was undocumented.
This section changed during the session. The initial wording also applied to any transportation within the state, prompting concern across the state, including from religious groups that work with immigrants.
Hospitals that accept Medicaid and all emergency rooms will need to add a new question to intake forms asking a person's residency status. The information will then head to the state to allow lawmakers to see how much money is used on undocumented immigrants.
The bill language allows a patient to not answer the question and redacts any identifying information.
Lewy said word-of-mouth information spreads rapidly among the immigrant community, and fear rose as the bill passed through the Legislature. Now, the Rural Women’s Health Project and other groups will set out to inform those affected about the actual provisions of the bill and the impacts.
She said that means urging the regular use of emergency rooms and urgent care, when needed.
Robleto said the bill’s impact is already being felt, even though it does not go into effect until July 1.
“But we've already heard from the community that there's the increase in fear and anxiety around accessing medical care, which already existed for our foreign-born neighbors, and this is just really ramping it up,” Robleto said.
According to city data, immigrants constituted 24.4% of the population growth in Gainesville from 2014-2019, increasing the number of immigrants in the city to around 14,800.