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PolitiFact FL: Newsom’s Mostly False claim about DeSantis’ support of amnesty for immigrants

A combination of photos shows Gavin Newsom speaking on the left and Ron DeSantis speaking on the right.
This combination of photos shows California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaking in Sacramento, Calif., on June 24, 2022, left, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaking in Sioux Center, Iowa, May 13, 2023, right.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, "lacks any credibility" on immigration," California’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, said during a Fox News debate in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Although DeSantis is campaigning for president on a strict immigration agenda, in Congress he "supported amnesty," said Newsom.

"That’s false," DeSantis responded, starting a back and forth exchange in which they talked over each other.

"You supported John Boehner’s bill. It’s a fact," said Newsom. "When you were in Congress, you supported Obama’s efforts to advance comprehensive reform."

"That’s false," said DeSantis. "I killed Boehner’s bill."

To discern facts from falsities, we looked at DeSantis’ record on immigration while in Congress, and the facts behind Newsom’s claim that DeSantis supported amnesty.

Amnesty has no agreed-upon definition

Newsom’s claim hinges partly on the definition of amnesty. For some people, amnesty is giving people who are in the U.S. illegally a legal status. For others, it’s a catch-all term for any policy favorable to people in the U.S. illegally, even if that policy doesn’t lead to citizenship.

A common reference for amnesty is the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which President Ronald Reagan signed and which paved the way for immigrants who were in the country illegally to become lawful permanent residents if they met certain requirements.

A Newsom spokesperson didn’t give us Newsom’s definition for amnesty, but pointed us to news articles to back Newsom’s claim. A spokesperson for DeSantis political action committee Never Back Down pointed us to other news articles to discredit Newsom’s claim.

Newsom’s evidence dealt with votes DeSantis cast while in Congress. Only one of them would have provided a legal status to certain people illegally in the U.S. More often, DeSantis has opposed such measures.

Examples of DeSantis supporting amnesty, according to Newsom

2013: DeSantis voted in favor of a bill to increase employment visa and green card quotas

While on the House Judiciary Committee in June 2013, DeSantis voted to move the SKILLS Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., out of committee. The measure increased the overall caps on visas for highly educated workers but included no benefits for people in the country illegally.

2014: DeSantis supported plan giving legal status to immigrants in the U.S. illegally, but backtracked

In January 2014, when Congress and President Barack Obama were working toward comprehensive immigration reform, then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced a set of immigration principles that included a path to citizenship for people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Although Boehner opposed a path to citizenship for adults who came to the U.S. illegally, the principles discussed creating a legal status for this group if they met certain requirements including passing background checks, paying fines and learning English.

A February 2014 Roll Call article listing representatives’ stances on Boehner’s immigration principles said DeSantis originally said "yes" to whether he supported them, but asked to be moved to the "no" category Feb. 25, 2014.

Earlier in February 2014, Boehner backtracked on the principles, saying Obama’s administration could not be trusted, The Washington Post reported.

2015: DeSantis voted for a trade provision that some conservative groups said could lead to more easily passing pro-immigration laws

In June 2015, DeSantis voted for a Republican-backed bill that would temporarily authorize the president to fast-track congressional approval on trade agreements. The measure, the Trade Promotion Authority, lets the president negotiate international trade agreements and pass them in Congress with a simple majority without an amendment process.

Conservative immigration groups said then that this would let Obama insert pro-immigration provisions that Congress would be unable to amend, such as changes to guest worker visa programs, into the trade agreements.

However, Republicans repeatedly said they would not support trade agreements that included immigration provisions.

2018: Voted for legal status for people brought to the U.S. illegally as children

In September 2017, the Trump administration said it would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that prevents the deportation of eligible immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as children.

As the program’s end loomed, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., introduced two immigration bills that would let beneficiaries stay in the United States while increasing border security and reducing legal immigration.

Under the "Securing America’s Future Act of 2018," aka Goodlatte I, program recipients could apply for a three-year, renewable nonimmigrant legal status. However, that status would not grant a path to citizenship.

DeSantis voted for Goodlatte I, which would qualify as amnesty under the broadest definition because it provided relief to people who entered the U.S. illegally.

DeSantis voted against Goodlatte II, a compromise among conservative and moderate Republicans. Under this bill, a broader group of immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children could apply for the same nonimmigrant legal status. This bill created a path for citizenship.

Neither bill passed the House.

Examples of DeSantis opposing amnesty, according to DeSantis Super PAC

2013: DeSantis voted to resume deportations of people brought to U.S. illegally as children

In June 2013, DeSantis voted for an amendment that prevented using Department of Homeland Security funds to carry out immigration policies, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The amendment sought to restart the deportation of people brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The vote passed the House, but the then- Democratic-controlled Senate and White House opposed it.

2013: DeSantis opposed comprehensive immigration reform passed in Senate

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that DeSantis at a town hall said he opposed an immigration reform bill that passed in the Senate and would have established a 13-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

2014: DeSantis spoke publicly against a path to citizenship for immigrants illegally in the U.S.

In October 2014, while DeSantis was running for reelection in the House, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, published a Q&A detailing DeSantis’ and his opponent’s stances on issues, including immigration.

DeSantis said he would "do everything in my power to stop Barack Obama from unilaterally and unconstitutionally instituting a massive amnesty by executive fiat."

Our ruling

Newsom said "when (Ron DeSantis) was in Congress, he supported amnesty."

During most of his congressional tenure, DeSantis opposed bills providing a pathway to citizenship to immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

However, in 2018 DeSantis voted for a bill providing a renewable three-year legal status to immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children. That bill did not create a path to citizenship. The bill would qualify as amnesty under the broadest definition because it provided relief to people who entered the U.S. illegally.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Maria Ramirez Uribe is an immigration reporter at PolitiFact.