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Why Are Florida GOP Lawmakers Targeting Community ID Cards?

Legislators are supporting a bill that would prohibit county and municipal governments from accepting IDs or documents provided to undocumented individuals by community programs.

Calling it a “loophole” in Florida law, Republican lawmakers in the Legislature on Monday, March 4, voted for a bill that targets identification cards provided to undocumented immigrants by community programs, part of a broader effort that they say is meant to deter illegal immigration in the state.

One of the co-sponsors of the proposal said during a debate in the House that the state needs to crack down on these identification documents and echoed a far-right conspiracy, known as the “Great Replacement Theory,” whose premise is that white Americans are being actively displaced by non-white people and immigrants.

Rep. Jeff Holcomb, a Republican from Hernando County, said that the United States is no longer sovereign and that Washington has allowed the country “to be invaded.” He listed the reasons why he believes supporters of the programs back the community IDs.

“Number one: They want to increase the population in certain segments of this country, so they can get electoral votes and more representatives in Washington. Number two: They want illegal immigrants to vote,” said Holcomb. “They want a popular vote. You are going to win a popular vote election when you allow new people to vote.”

The bill, which was introduced in the House by Republican state Reps. Kiyan Michael and Berny Jacques, prohibits county and municipal governments from accepting IDs or documents “knowingly issued to individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.” Eighty-one House members voted in favor of the bill, while another 32 opposed it. The legislation is scheduled to be on the Senate’s special order calendar on Tuesday. Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, also a Republican, introduced it in that chamber.

The legislation expands on a state immigration-related law from last year that barred local governments from funding organizations that give IDs to people who cannot prove they are authorized to be in the country. If signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the new law would go into effect in July of this year.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties have nonprofit-run, community ID programs. They give identification cards to Floridians who can’t get a state ID because they don’t meet requirements or have a difficult time doing so, including homeless people, survivors of domestic violence, formerly incarcerated citizens, seniors and immigrants.

Those who support community IDs say they help keep Florida safer and help vulnerable people get critical services in their communities. When Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava first launched the program following county commission board approval in 2022, she said that it was a “long-awaited solution for many of our residents who do not have an ID card that could make their lives easier on a daily basis.” Today, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties can no longer fund the community ID programs because of last year’s state law, but the local groups that run them have continued issuing the IDs.

In Miami-Dade, the IDs can be used to adopt animals, connect houses to water meters, receive commuter discounts, get access to housing services and file consumer complaints, among other purposes, according to a 2022 county memo about the program’s rollout. They also help law enforcement identify victims and witnesses of crime. ID holders can also use them to pick up children from school and go to doctor’s appointments. The community IDs cannot be used to vote, drive or receive social welfare benefits.

“I encourage folks to think about community IDs beyond the debate around immigration. Just look at it as a tool of public safety to ensure everyone can receive critical assistance that’s rightfully theirs,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orange County, during the debate on Monday. She emphasized the utility of community IDs in times of emergency, such as to get sandbags during hurricanes.

Tallahassee legislators who publicly backed the bill on Monday linked illegal immigration to violent crime and pointed to high-profile murders of U.S. citizens at the hands of undocumented immigrants.

Holcomb described his colleague, Rep. Michael, as a “victim of illegal immigration.” Michael has publicly shared the story of losing her 21-year-old son in a car accident that involved an undocumented immigrant. In a campaign advertisement for Gov. Ron DeSantis, she narrated how a twice-deported man rammed into her son’s car.

“There are people who are waiting to come into this nation. There are people who paid the prices, they’ve done their time, they’ve waited in line, they’ve filled out the forms. And they are still waiting. But in two years we’ve had over 8 million plus known terrorists that have come into this nation,” said Michael, appearing to refer to the number of encounters that Customs and Border Protection has registered with migrants nationwide since 2021. (However, one individual can have more than one encounter. A Washington Post analysis of Department of Homeland Security data shows that over 2.3 million people have been released from the U.S.- Mexico border, where the majority of encounters have taken place since 2021.)

Holcomb also cited the recent murder of Laken Riley, a nursing student who was killed at the University of Georgia last month. A Venezuelan man has been charged with the murder, which has become part of the national debate around immigration in recent days.

“Washington, you have blood on your hands...You are standing behind murderers who are here illegally. Stop standing with criminals and stand with Americans and support this bill,” he said.

Rep. Jacques, the co-sponsor, called the community ID legislation a matter of “life and death.”

“Let Americans thrive in their own country without worrying about the government failing to keep them safe. And if it’s just for that reason, to make sure that we don’t lose one more American because there was an incentive that drew them here in the first place then that’s a reason good enough for me to vote up on this bill,” said Jacques, who was born in Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

Research has found that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts. One study evaluating over a century of Census data found that people born outside the country are less likely to be imprisoned than U.S.-born Americans.

Rep. Angela Nixon,a Jacksonville Democrat, described Holcomb’s rhetoric on immigration as “really disrespectful to immigrants and refugees all across our state and this country.”

Rep. Marie Paule Woodson, a Democrat from Hollywood born in the Haitian city of Port-de-Paix, questioned colleagues about why they were trying to hurt immigrants with the bill, and pointed to the immigrant roots of several state legislators.

“When we come up with bills like this one, we forget where we come from. When we are immigrants and we are trying to marginalize other immigrants, we forget where we come from. When we seem to ignore the plea of immigrants, we forget where we come from,” she said. “This country was built on the back of immigrants and slavery. Hurting immigrants is hurting the United States.”

©2024 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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