This May, Florida became the latest state to pass DREAM Act legislation, allowing young undocumented immigrants to pay the same in-state college tuition rates as other Florida residents. In driving the bill toward passage in the Florida House of Representatives, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford (R) single-handedly prevented his Republican colleagues from blocking a vote on the legislation—HB 851—by threatening to hold the state’s budget hostage until the Florida Senate allowed a floor vote on it.
Speaker Weatherford’s actions, coming only three years after Florida came dangerously close to passing an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill—SB 2040—highlight the state’s political and demographic evolution. SB 2040 would have opened the door to racial profiling by requiring law enforcement to check the legal status of anyone they believed to be in the country without legal status. The fact that Florida could swing so rapidly from anti- to pro-immigrant legislation—and that a young conservative leader could be out in front of it—says a lot about how the state has changed over the past few years. Speaker Weatherford’s success should be recognized as a watershed moment for Florida’s immigration policy and as a bellwether that a segment of the Republican Party is finally fighting for the votes of a changing electorate.
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