Florida law criminalizing transport of undocumented immigrants is blocked by lawsuit

Farmworker, immigrant and civil rights groups who sued the state praised the ruling blocking part of the law that went into effect last year.

Rebecca Blackwell / AP file

Farmworker and civil rights groups suing the state of Florida overrestrictive immigration law that criminalizes the transportation of undocumented persons into the state are praising the actions of a federal judge who temporarily blocked its enforcement.

U.S. District Judge Roy Altman, an appointee of Republican former President Donald Trump, blocked a section of the law Wednesday pending the outcome of the lawsuit filed last summer by the Farmworker Association of Florida and other immigrant and civil rights groups.

“This is a much-needed win for Floridians. For too long, our state has imposed a barrage of anti-immigrant laws and policies that harm citizens and noncitizens alike," Amien Kacou, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida who is part of the legal team representing the farmworkers' association in the lawsuit, said in a statement following the decision.

Florida's stringent immigration law, also known as SB 1718, was signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis a year ago as he was getting ready to start his now failed presidential run. At the time, he made immigration a central theme of his campaign.

The law, which went into effect on July 1, 2023, imposes restrictions and penalties meant to deter the employment of undocumented workers in the state and makes it a felony to “knowingly and willfully” transport an undocumented immigrant into Florida.

In announcing the lawsuit last August, the ACLU stated that “Section 10 has put thousands of Floridians and residents of other states — both citizens and noncitizens alike — at risk of being arrested, charged and prosecuted with a felony for transporting a vaguely defined category of immigrants into Florida, even for simple acts such as driving a family member to a doctor’s appointment or going on family vacation.”

The law forced many undocumented workers in the agriculture, construction and tourism industries to move out of Florida, and left many others uncertain about whether they should leave the state.

It even instilled fear on immigrant communities worried the law would limit their ability to seek shelter during Hurricane Idalia last August.

Previous enforcement of the law has also resulted in arrests and human smuggling charges.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who is a defendant in the lawsuit, has argued in court documents that the plaintiffs lack legal standing to bring the case forward, the Miami Herald reported.

But Judge Altman stated the Florida law “extends beyond the state’s authority to make arrests for violations of federal immigration law," which makes it likely invalid, Reuters reported.

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