Florida’s legislature on Friday voted to give Governor Ron DeSantis the power to relocate migrants anywhere in the United States, expanding a controversial initiative the Republican used last year to fly migrants from Texas to Massachusetts.
The legislation passed the Florida House of Representatives along party lines. The bill, which has already been approved by the Republican-majority state Senate on Wednesday, now heads to DeSantis’ desk for his signature.
State lawmakers are holding a special session to advance several bills that are priorities for DeSantis, who has built a national profile by fighting for conservative values on cultural issues in advance of a widely expected campaign for president next year.
Last year, DeSantis used taxpayer money to fly dozens of South American migrants from Texas to the wealthy enclave of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, saying he was responding to the federal government’s failed immigration policies.
The move – decried as a political stunt by Democrats and advocates for immigrants and praised by conservatives – raised legal questions because none of the migrants had been in Florida. Democratic state Senator Jason Pizzo has sued DeSantis as a private citizen, claiming the governor misused taxpayer money.
The new bill would explicitly allow DeSantis to transport migrants from anywhere in the country. It also says money spent on flights in the past is “deemed approved,” which could help defend the governor against claims of misuse.
Democrats, citing allegations that some of the migrants were misled, said the program uses vulnerable people as political props.
“This bill is indefensible,” Representative Christopher Benjamin said on the state House floor on Friday. “They are human beings, not chess pieces. Stop playing games with people’s lives.”
Republicans said the bill will help migrants who wish to travel to so-called sanctuary cities voluntarily.
“They’re going to get more benefits in a sanctuary state or city than they would here, and we’re simply providing them with a free ticket,” Representative Juan Fernandez-Barquin said.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters