The Mexican government is funding a lawsuit for illegal migrants in Florida facing human smuggling charges and potential imprisonment under Governor Ron DeSantis’s strict anti-illegal migration law.

In May 2023, DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1718 (SB 1718) into law. This legislation mandates the use of E-verify for employers to verify job candidates’ eligibility, denies undocumented migrants driver’s licenses, and increases penalties for human smuggling.

After the law took effect in July, several migrants, including Raquel Lopez Aguilar, 41, were arrested by Florida law enforcement. Aguilar, who has been in jail since his arrest for transporting illegal aliens working as roofers, faces up to 20 years in prison. The Mexican government is covering his legal fees, as reported by the Guardian.

Juan Sabines, a Mexican Consul in Orlando, told 10 Tampa Bay, “We will win this case,” asserting that “nobody is illegal in this world.”

Mexico Funds Legal Defense for Illegal Migrants Arrested Under DeSantis’s Law
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis waves upon arriving at a news conference in Matlacha, Florida, on October 5, 2022.

Under SB 1718, human smuggling involves “knowingly transporting five or more illegal aliens or a single illegal alien minor.” Penalties include a second-degree felony, a $10,000 fine, and up to 15 years in prison.

NPR correspondent Greg Allen reported that the arresting officer stopped Aguilar’s van due to its “obviously darker-than-legal tint on the rear windows, and several large cracks on the windshield.” Aguilar, driving with six others, was traveling from Georgia to Tampa when arrested and charged with four counts of human smuggling. The Mexican government funds his defense through a program aiding nationals in the U.S. Mexico’s consul in Orlando has condemned Aguilar’s arrest as a “complete injustice” and plans a news conference.

Mexico Funds Legal Defense for Illegal Migrants Arrested Under DeSantis’s Law
Highway Patrol troopers from Texas and Florida apprehend a group of migrants by the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass, Texas.

U.S. District Judge Roy Altman, in May, blocked state law enforcement from enforcing the SB 1718 provision defining the transportation of illegal migrants as human smuggling. Altman will hear arguments in June on whether to maintain this ruling.

DeSantis’s law has faced criticism for allegedly causing a loss of migrant workers willing to work for low wages. In July 2023, the ACLU, the Farmworker Association of Florida, and the American Immigration Council sued DeSantis, arguing the law penalizes actions Congress did not prohibit and hinders federal immigration policy by blocking immigrants from entering Florida.

Despite criticisms, the law benefits American workers by lowering housing costs and raising business wages. Mexico opposes the law as it complicates the hiring of low-wage Mexican migrants.