In his anti-immigrant push, how extreme can Ron DeSantis get?

By Marcella Garcia,  The Boston Globe,  April 15, 2023.

People who house a family member who is undocumented, clergy who minister to those without legal status, mothers who drive their undocumented child, parents who hire an undocumented nanny or housekeeper — they would all be criminalized.

In the race to be the most anti-immigrant Republican presidential candidate, it looks like there is no low Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida won’t sink to.

While DeSantis has yet to announce a bid for the White House, the controversial politician has emerged as the leading candidate to challenge former president Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential primary nomination. Given that status, DeSantis’s draconian hardline proposals to crack down on immigration in Florida deserve more national attention. Combined with his attempts to bulldoze LGBTQ and reproductive rights, DeSantis’s proposals ought to be seen as a terrifying blueprint for the country.

DeSantis’s anti-immigration stances are nothing new, of course. His Martha’s Vineyard political stunt last year — when he tricked dozens of asylum-seekers and flew them to the Massachusetts island in an attempt to “own the libs’’ by relocating the migrants to progressive cities — went a step beyond the program of Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, who bused migrants to New York City and Washington, D.C., in a similar gimmicky fashion. Martha’s Vineyard was DeSantis’s opening salvo; then, he was just beginning to show the contours of his anti-immigrant extremism.

Proposed earlier this year, DeSantis’s legislative proposals, if approved by the Republican-led Legislature in Florida as expected, would: make it a felony to “transport, conceal, or harbor’’ undocumented immigrants; mandate hospitals to collect data about the immigration status of patients and report costs associated with serving people without legal status; void driver’s licenses from other states issued to undocumented immigrants; and revoke a law that lets lawyers who are not citizens be admitted to the Florida Bar, among other proposals.

The legislative package is so cruel and unprecedented that it tops even Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers’’ law from 10 years ago, which allowed law enforcement officers to ask the immigration status of a person. DeSantis’s proposals are also a perfect representation of the phrase “shooting oneself in the foot.’’ How appropriate for a state that produced the ubiquitous and prolific “Florida Man’’ meme, which mocks Floridians acting in nonsensical, inexplicable, and plainly weird ways.

Florida’s economy would suffer tremendously if DeSantis’s draconian bills pass. People who house a family member who is undocumented, clergy who minister to those without legal status, mothers who drive their undocumented child, parents who hire an undocumented nanny or housekeeper — they would all be criminalized. Wait, but what if you didn’t know the person you’re transporting, harboring, or concealing came to the country illegally? It doesn’t matter. As legal experts have noted, Floridians could be punished if they “reasonably should [have] know[n]’’ that the person in question was undocumented.

There are more than 4 million immigrants in Florida and roughly 800,000 of them are undocumented — most of them work, drive, and pay taxes. What about the Florida businesses that employ them? Where are they going to find workers?

DeSantis’s extremism is, without question, a feature and not a bug of his expected presidential candidacy. “Florida is a law and order state, and we won’t turn a blind eye to the dangers of Biden’s border crisis,’’ DeSantis said when he presented the legislative package.

Has DeSantis gone too far? Apparently not yet, according to polls.

While DeSantis had been leading national polls in the Republican nominee race, the other Florida man — the one who was twice impeached while he was president — saw a bump in national polls after he was criminally charged in New York. But in the Sunshine State, DeSantis is more popular than Trump, according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll among registered voters. Last year, DeSantis’s Martha’s Vineyard political stunt seemingly didn’t hurt him among Hispanic voters. DeSantis was reelected as governor by a landslide, with roughly 56 percent of the Latino vote.

He even flipped Miami-Dade County, a Democratic stronghold that is predominantly Hispanic; he became the first Republican governor to do so in two decades. It remains to be seen to what extent that was a failure of Democrats to compete in the region or if DeSantis can truly carry that Hispanic base into a potential presidential bid. Some Latino evangelical leaders are reportedly “alarmed’’ by DeSantis’s proposal. (To be sure, if and when DeSantis’s bills pass, they are expected to be challenged in court.)

That DeSantis wants to replicate across the nation his Florida blueprint of hatred toward LGBTQ individuals and Black or brown folks, immigrants included, is expected. For an increasing number of Republicans, “being tough on illegal immigration’’ is code for “let’s criminalize undocumented immigrants as much as possible.’’ But if and when the governor’s draconian anti-immigrant proposal becomes law, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers will also be inflicting great damage on all Floridians and the state’s economy.

Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.

Photo Credit: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis spoke during an event in Garden City, N.Y., on April 1. By Marcela García, Globe Columnist

Image Credits: The Boston Globe