Florida grand jury calls for new laws on illegal immigration

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, talks with FWC Law Enforcement officers following a news conference at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, on Key Biscayne, Fla. The Governor announced increased funding for the environmental protection of Biscayne Bay. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A statewide grand jury empaneled at the request of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for lawmakers to create new criminal penalties for harboring undocumented immigrants.

The recommendations were released Wednesday. DeSantis this summer asked the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a grand jury to investigate human smuggling and so-called sanctuary city policies.

The move comes as DeSantis, a Republican, frequently criticizes federal immigration policy under Democratic President Joe Biden and makes illegal immigration a key issue as he contemplates a potential 2024 GOP presidential run.

The grand jury report recommends creating a third degree felony for a person who conceals or harbors an undocumented immigrant, or shields an undocumented immigrant from law enforcement detection. It also proposes a third-degree felony charge for those who transport undocumented immigrants to or within Florida.

The Florida Legislature is set to meet for its regular session in March and no formal legislation has been filed on the grand jury's recommendations. Still, the Republican-dominated statehouse has shown a willingness to carry out the governor's policy agenda.

The Florida Legislature in 2019 passed a law banning so-called sanctuary cities but a federal judge in September 2021 blocked the state from enforcing it. The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by the city of South Miami and other organizations against DeSantis. The state is appealing the decision.