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Judge revisits ruling that blocked Florida from criminalizing transport of immigrants

A day after blocking part of a state law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, a federal judge Thursday appeared to have second thoughts about the scope of a preliminary injunction he issued.

U.S. District Judge Roy Altman initially applied the injunction statewide. But he issued an order Thursday that partially quoted an Arkansas case and said on “further reflection, and given the ‘national conversation taking place in both the legal academy and the judiciary concerning the propriety of courts using universal injunctions as a matter of preliminary relief,’ we now invite further briefing on the proper scope of the injunction.”

Altman, who was appointed as a judge in the federal Southern District of Florida in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, ordered attorneys for the plaintiffs and the state to file briefs by June 6 on whether the injunction should apply to plaintiffs who have established legal standing; all plaintiffs who remain in the case; throughout the Southern District; or statewide.

The lawsuit, filed in July by The Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc. and individual plaintiffs, centers on part of a 2023 state law (SB 1718) that threatens felony charges for people who transport an immigrant who “entered the United States in violation of law and has not been inspected by the federal government since his or her unlawful entry.”

Judge blocks Florida from criminalizing transport of immigrants

In issuing the preliminary injunction Wednesday, Altman cited previous federal court rulings that he said consistently established immigration is a matter governed by federal — not state — law.

“By making it a felony to transport into Florida someone who ‘has not been inspected by the federal government since his or her unlawful entry,’ Section 10 (the disputed section of the law) extends beyond the state’s authority to make arrests for violations of federal immigration law and, in so doing, intrudes into territory that’s preempted,” Altman wrote.

The law is among a number of steps DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature have taken in recent years targeting undocumented immigrants.

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