TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA —- The toughest anti-illegal immigration bill in the country reached the Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy on Tuesday afternoon, facing overtime debate ending with advancement to the Senate floor.
Introduced by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), the comprehensive SB 1718 imposes a third-degree felony for illegal immigrants using false identification for employment and a third-degree felony for knowingly transporting undocumented immigrants. It also requires Medicaid-accepting hospitals to report on the number of undocumented individuals examined.
“This is an anti-illegal immigration bill,” Ingoglia summed up. “People are being exploited. It is time for us – the state of Florida – to lead on this issue and fight back.”
“CAN AFFECT THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION”
Doctors and Christian leaders spoke against the legislation, citing fears of decreased quality of life and the criminalization of church groups.
“This bill impacts directly the church mission,” The Emeritus Pastor of Calvario Church in Orlando said, worried that religious organizations that transport illegal immigrants could face felony charges. “A big percentage of immigrants in Florida are connected to a church. Regularly there are church events where going from one state to another is common – this bill can affect the free exercise of our religion.”
A nurse practitioner brought up the bill’s provision for hospitals reporting on illegal immigrants seen in emergency rooms, explaining that undocumented immigrants may avoid hospitals altogether for fear of being deported.
“I realize that the intent is not to scare people, but it will scare folks away,” he said. “I took an oath to do no harm, and ultimately, this bill harms. When people are afraid to seek out care, they wait until the last minute when it’s an emergency. If they wait until the last minute, it’s like trying to replace an engine in a car – it’s a lot more expensive than trying to replace a spark plug. If people can come in for preventative care, it saves them their lives and it saves all of us money.”
“JESUS TOLD US TO FOLLOW THE LAW”
In closing, Sen. Ingoglia acknowledged the worries many have with his bill, highlighting the importance of following the law above all.
“I know that a lot of the faith-based community have a lot of anxiety over this bill, and some were even up here quoting scripture. I would tell you that Jesus told us to follow the law,” Ingoglia stated. “But to sit here and advocate for the status quo is not what we need. Some of them are just blatantly advocating for not following the law.”
Ingoglia called on the federal government to act: “What’s happening at the southern border is affecting everyday Americans. You cannot have a country without borders, you cannot have a country without laws. Basically the administration right now is a de facto partner in the drug cartels, allowing all of this to happen. Not only should we say no, we should say hell no. No more are we standing for this.”
After three hours of debate, SB 1718 passed down party lines, and is now heading to the Senate floor.