"Unsafe for people": Immigrant and LGBTQ+ rights groups issue travel warnings for Florida

"Travel to all areas of Florida should be done with extreme caution as it can be unsafe for people of color"

Published April 13, 2023 4:30PM (EDT)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Faced with persistent attacks from Florida Republicans, including presumed 2024 presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis, immigrant and LGBTQ+ rights groups on Wednesday issued advisories for traveling to the southeastern U.S. state.

The moves by the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) and Equality Florida follow the NAACP Florida State Conference voting unanimously last month to ask the national group's board of directors to issue a travel advisory for the Black community.

FLIC's advisory—issued as a website—comes as DeSantis pressures the GOP-controlled state Legislature to pass measures that would threaten Florida residents with felony charges if they provide undocumented immigrants with shelter, transportation, or work while also requiring publicly funded schools and hospitals to participate in the crackdown.

"Travel to all areas of Florida should be done with extreme caution as it can be unsafe for people of color, individuals who speak with an accent, and international travelers," the website warns. "Due to unconstitutional legislation supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis and introduced by legislative leadership, every county in Florida poses a heightened risk of harassment, possible detainment, and potential family separation based on racial profiling."

The coalition's site also notes that "naturalized and U.S. citizens of African, Latin American, Central American, Native American, Asian, and Pacific Islander descent are not immune from racial profiling, heightened scrutiny, and false arrest."

Additionally, as the site explains:

Florida is poised to pass laws creating criminal penalties for medical providers who provide medically necessary care for transgender youth, weaponizing the courts to shred existing child custody agreements and reassign transgender youth to an unsupportive parent, and severely restricting access to prescribed medical care for transgender adults.

Florida has passed or is poised to pass bills that restrict access to reproductive healthcare, including a near-total abortion ban, which threatens to force people to travel out of state or seek unsafe, illegal abortions.

Equality Florida similarly pointed to the "passage of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ+ community, restrict access to reproductive healthcare, repeal gun safety laws and allow untrained, unpermitted carry, and foment racial prejudice" when warning that the Sunshine State "may not be a safe place to visit or take up residence."

Equality Florida executive Director Nadine Smith said in a statement that "as an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida's reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live, work, and visit, it is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms."

"While losing conferences and top students who have written off Florida threatens lasting damage to our state, it is most heartbreaking to hear from parents who are selling their homes and moving because school censorship, book bans, and healthcare restrictions have made their home state less safe for their children," Smith continued.

"We understand everyone must weigh the risks and decide what is best for their safety, but whether you stay away, leave, or remain we ask that you join us in countering these relentless attacks," she added. "Help reimagine and build a Florida that is truly safe for and open to all, and where freedom is a reality, not a hollow campaign slogan."

Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for DeSantis, told The Florida Times-Union that the new advisories were a "political stunt" and "we aren't going to waste time worrying about political stunts but will continue doing what is right for Floridians."

DeSantis had responded similarly to the NAACP's move last month, saying, "what a joke" and "I'm not wasting my time on your stunts."

The NAACP request came not only amid battles over various laws but also after DeSantis rejected the new Advanced Placement African-American Studies course for high school students.

"Our question to Gov. DeSantis is, 'What sort of future are you fostering for Black Americans throughout Florida while eradicating our historical contributions to this nation?'" said NAACP Florida State Conference chair Adora Obi Nweze. "There is no 'feel-good' version of the horrors and inequalities that Black Americans have faced or continue to face."

"Slavery, Jim Crow, and lynchings followed by ongoing school segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality, housing discrimination, healthcare disparities, and [the] wage gap are all tough truths to face," she argued. "Misrepresenting the reality of our history promotes ignorance and apathy."

Although the request for an NAACP travel advisory was submitted as a resolution to the national board last month, review and approval of resolutions won't begin until May and are expected to go through July. However, board chairman Leon W. Russell has already weighed in, saying that "the recommendation from our Florida State Conference is a clear indication of just how egregious Gov. DeSantis' actions are."

"Any attempt to intentionally erase or misrepresent Black history is a direct attack on the foundation of comprehensive education. Be clear—Black history is American history," Russell declared. "We are proud of our Florida State Conference for meeting this moment with the equal aggression and intention that is a necessary response to these attacks. Any location in America where our history has been erased does not offer us, or our children, a bright future."

By Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.

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