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Florida special session immigration bill replaces migrant flight program

This article is a reprint of an article that can be viewed here.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida 2023B special starts Monday, and while initially expected to focus on handling the battle between state lawmakers, Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the Walt Disney Company over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, it also gained additional priorities.

The session will also include legislation related to immigration and migrant relocation, with a bill proposed to repeal the previous migrant flight program to create a new one.

The program has been a subject of controversy and multiple lawsuits, including by state lawmakers, since the first flights in September.

House Bill 5B, Transportation of Inspected Unauthorized Aliens, appropriates $10 million to create a new program within the Florida Department of Emergency Management, specifically to deal with migrants coming to Florida.

As written, the bill repeals Section 185 of Florida’s 2022 appropriations bill, HB 5001, which created the $12 million fund to move migrants found in Florida to other parts of the U.S.

The language of that section has been a source of questions, as the one actual set of flights used to transport migrants only appeared in Florida briefly in a stopover, instead transporting nearly 50 migrants from San Antonio, Texas, to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Second and third planned flights were set up, but ultimately did not actually transport anyone.

HB 5B says that along with repeal of the $12 million program, which was still named as a priority in the 2023 budget plan by DeSantis, the $1.565 million paid to Vertol Systems, Inc. would be deemed “approved.”

The proposed section in HB 5B reads that “Section 185 of chapter 2022-156, Laws of Florida, is repealed. All payments made pursuant to that section are deemed approved. Any unexpended balance of funds appropriated to the Department of Transportation under that section shall immediately revert.”

Instead, the new Unauthorized Alien Transport Program for FDEM would be used to “mitigate the effects” of what the state is calling a crisis, created by the federal government having “failed to secure the nation’s borders and has allowed a surge of inspected unauthorized aliens” to enter the country.

To do so, the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program would use $10 million, in a non-recurring expenditure, to facilitate the transport of said “inspected unauthorized aliens.”

HB 5B uses the term “inspected unauthorized aliens” to mean “an individual who has documentation from the United States Government indicating” they’ve been “processed and released” without admittance under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. ss. 1101, which governs immigration admittance policies, federally. As part of Florida’s strategy of handling immigration problems, the state empaneled a grand jury in June to investigate.

Florida lawmakers wrote in the bill that state residents must be “protected” from the border crisis’ impacts, naming “increased crime, diminished economic opportunities and wages for American works, and burdens on the education and health care systems” as the negative repercussions for the ongoing issues at the U.S. Southern Border.

Additionally, the authors of the bill included that, “The Legislature finds that the Federal Government has proven itself unwilling to address this crisis” in the text.

The current migration situation in Florida numbers hundreds of individuals coming to the state, so far. An executive order by the governor to respond to an influx of migrants in the Florida Keys has already seen more than 1,000 migrants “apprehended” by Florida law enforcement officers, according to an update from officials in January.

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