Judge Blocks Florida Law Criminalizing Transport of Illegal Immigrants Into State

Bill Pan
By Bill Pan
May 23, 2024US News
Judge Blocks Florida Law Criminalizing Transport of Illegal Immigrants Into State
Illegal immigrants from Cuba line up to board a bus to be driven to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection station as they are processed in Marathon, Fla., on Jan. 5, 2023. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A federal judge has temporarily blocked part of a Florida law that criminalizes transporting illegal immigrants into the state.

The challenged law was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis a year ago, when southern border states were bracing for a flood of illegal immigrants following the scheduled expiration of Title 42, a public health order that allowed border enforcement agents to quickly expel those deemed at risk of bringing in COVID.

Touted by Mr. DeSantis and his supporters as the “strongest anti-illegal immigration legislation in the country,” the law contains a provision that makes it a third-degree felony for anyone to “knowingly and willfully” transport into Florida someone whom “the person knows or reasonably knew … has not been inspected by the Federal Government since his or her unlawful entry.”

In a preliminary injunction issued Wednesday, Judge Roy Altman of the Southern District of Florida said the provision in question “extends beyond the state’s authority to make arrests for violations of federal immigration law, and in doing so, intrudes into territory that’s preempted.”

“In this case, any harm the state may suffer from an injunction is overweighed by the harm [the provision] poses both to the Plaintiffs and to the United States, which has the ultimate interest in protecting federal supremacy in the realm of immigration,” the Trump-appointed judge wrote.

The lawsuit was filed in July by the Farmworker Association of Florida, which describes itself as a “grassroots and community-based farmworker membership organization” serving seasonal workers as well as migrant workers who travel with the seasons to harvest crops.

According to its complaint, the Association members have to travel back and forth between Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, crossing back into Florida multiple times per year. With the transportation law in place, the Association said, some of its members became “too afraid to travel in and out of Florida with their undocumented friends or family members,” over the fear of being arrested or prosecuted.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a defendant in the suit, has argued in that the Association has no legal standing to sue in the first place. She also clarified that visa holders, DACA recipients—those who were illegally brought to the United States as young children, asylum seekers, and people with pending removal proceedings are not subject to punishment under the transportation law, since they are considered “inspected” by the federal government.

Judge Altman disagreed with her argument. In Wednesday’s opinion, he said the the way the law is worded gives the Association’s members a good reason to fear a potential arrest, and that they have “suffered an injury in fact,” even though they haven’t put themselves at risk of an actual arrest.

The judge also found that the Association has standing to sue. “An organizational plaintiff suffers cognizable injury when it is forced to divert resources from its regular activities to educate and assist affected individuals in complying with the challenged statute,” he wrote.

The Association was backed by a score of high profile progressive advocacy groups: the national and Florida chapter of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Immigrant Justice, American Immigration Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. They celebrated the court order as a “much-needed win for Floridians.”

“The court was right to block this callous and patently unconstitutional law, which had threatened Floridians with jail time for doing the most ordinary things, like going to work, visiting family, and driving kids to soccer games. This ruling is an important victory for Florida communities,” Spencer Amdur, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.

Florida Attorney General’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday’s ruling is the latest in the legal blowback against states that seek to handle illegal immigration on their own in the wake of the growing crisis at the nation’s southern border. The Biden administration has sued three states—Texas, Iowa, and most recently Oklahoma—for making illegal immigration a state crime enforceable by state and local law enforcement.

From The Epoch Times

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