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Mexico is defending an undocumented immigrant arrested under a new Florida law

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Mexican government is helping defend one of its citizens who was arrested under a new state immigration law in Florida. That law makes it a felony to transport undocumented immigrants into the state. The administration of Mexico's president has harshly criticized Florida. And now, NPR's Greg Allen reports the country is stepping up to defend one of the first people arrested under the law.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Raquel Lopez Aguilar was driving a van with six other people on board when he was pulled over by state troopers in August. The arresting officer said he stopped the van because it had, quote, "obviously darker-than-legal tint on the rear windows, and the windshield had several large cracks." Border Patrol agents were called. The report says Lopez Aguilar told them he and the others were traveling from Georgia to Tampa. He was arrested and charged with four counts of human smuggling. Lopez Aguilar's defense is being paid for by the Mexican government under a program that provides legal help to nationals in the U.S. Mexico's consul in Orlando has called Lopez Aguilar's arrest, quote, "complete injustice." He's visited Lopez Aguilar in jail and has scheduled a news conference tomorrow. Lopez Aguilar is believed to be the first person arrested under a Florida law. If convicted, he would face up to five years in prison on each of the four counts of human smuggling. When Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the law in May, he bragged it was the toughest migrant legislation in the country.

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RON DESANTIS: They're thinking about coming from the border, smuggling people somewhere. Florida is not a good place for you to do that - OK? - because you're going to end up facing pushback. If you want to go somewhere where they are a sanctuary state, then do California or do Illinois or something, but don't do here.

ALLEN: In July, days after it went into effect, Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, condemned the law and urged Americans not to support DeSantis in his run for the presidency - not one vote, Lopez Obrador said, for those who despise migrants. DeSantis has shot back, saying Florida won't let their immigration laws be dictated by Mexico City. The law invalidates driver's licenses and IDs issued to undocumented immigrants by other states. It requires all businesses in Florida to use the federal E-Verify system to check workers' eligibility. It also requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask those it treats about their citizenship status.

But it's the provision making it a felony to transport undocumented migrants that's the most controversial. A coalition of immigrant rights groups has filed a legal challenge to that section of the law in federal court. They say it's vaguely worded, making it a felony to transport people who may have entered the country illegally and since then have not been, quote, "inspected by the federal government." The law also maintains the Florida law is unconstitutional because it unilaterally seeks to regulate the transport of migrants - authority the courts have said belongs to the federal government. Florida's attorney general is defending the law, dismissing concerns that it's unconstitutional.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.