Florida lawmakers approved a bill Friday expand a program used to bring immigrants to cities and states led by Democrats. The administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis will now be able to relocate immigrants to other places in any state in the country, not just Florida.

He bill formally creates the Unauthorized Alien Transportation Program, building on a program signed into law by DeSantis last year that allowed government officials to take migrants to destinations in blue states that have sanctuary policies in place.

The move suggests that DeSantis has no intention of shying away from the controversial methods his administration has used to deal with immigrants. Conservative allies have pointed to the practice as a necessary tool to draw attention to the border crisis in the US. Republican State Rep. John Snyder also argued during the floor debate on Thursday that the program was «humanitarian» because it offered a «free charter flight». for migrants who want to move to another part of the country.

But Democrats and human rights advocates have criticized the expansion of the program, which some have compared to human trafficking. And in Thursday’s debate, Democratic lawmakers also questioned why Florida taxpayer money should be used to transport immigrants from other states.

The bill passed both Republican-led houses along partisan lines and now goes to DeSantis for his signature.

Jeremy Redfern, DeSantis’ spokesman for DeSantis, said the governor will review the bill «in its final form and decide on the merits of the bill as presented.»

In September, DeSantis flew two planes with 49 immigrants on board from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, saying the funds to pay for it came from his latest budget.

The move drew harsh criticism from Democrats and immigrant advocates, who helped many of the immigrants sue DeSantis and other state officials alleging they were victims of politically motivated fraud. Some migrants who were transported said they were not clearly told where they were going.

A Democratic State Senator as well sued DeSantis about the relocations, saying they violated state law because the immigrants were being moved from another state, not Florida. The new legislation would address that problem, allowing Florida officials to transport immigrants from anywhere in the country, a change that could quash the lawsuit.

The latest bill also authorized the governor’s administration to develop the expanded program by awarding contracts to companies tasked with doing so.

It’s one of several controversial bills in the Legislature’s two-week special session that promises to further elevate the reputation of DeSantis, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, among national conservatives. Other bills under consideration include one that would bring Disney’s special government district under direct state control. The move was a response to the company’s criticism last year of DeSantis’s decision to ban teacher-led discussion or instruction on gender and sexual orientation in schools kindergarten through third grade.

Another bill before the Legislature expands the jurisdiction of a state attorney to prosecute election crime charges brought by the governor’s new election police force.

The passage of the bill expanding the migrant transportation program comes weeks after hundreds of Cuban and Haitian immigrants arrived in the Florida Keys, many of whom had made the treacherous journey in handmade boats. Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature have said the expansion of the program is designed «to respond to the influx of immigrants arriving in the Florida Keys.»

The measure «will facilitate the transportation of inspected unauthorized aliens within the United States,» according to the language of the bill. The law defines that group of people as people who have “documentation from the United States Government indicating that the United States Government processed you and released you into the United States without admitting the individual in accordance with federal Immigration Law.” and Nationality”. That refers to people who have been admitted to the US while a decision on immigration and asylum applications is pending.

The law explicitly targets the Biden administration, with language stating that «the federal government has failed to secure the nation’s borders» and has «demonstrated that it is unwilling to address this crisis» and that «without such action» by Florida lawmakers, «detrimental effects could occur,» such as «increased crime, decreased economic opportunity and wages for American workers, and burdens on the education and health care systems.»

In September, DeSantis said that «it is better» that migrants «can go to a sanctuary jurisdiction» and that the program «would help facilitate the transportation» of migrants to «greener pastures.»

DeSantis has more recently defended that the measure had a «deterrent effect» on immigrants arriving in Florida.

“People are sick of having an open border with no rule of law in this country,” said at a press conference last week. “We can just sit here and do nothing about it or we can stand up and say, ‘Whatever tools we have at our disposal, we’re going to use them.’”

Republican governors across the country, including Greg Abbott of Texas and former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, have begun in recent months busing immigrants to liberal strongholds to draw attention to what they say are border policies. failures of the Biden administration. Since then, thousands of migrants have arrived in New York, Washington, Chicago and elsewhere, and officials in those cities are rushing to provide support services. Texas alone has sent nearly 15,000 migrants to other cities since April, according to an NBC News review.

amanda terkel and zoe richards contributed.