In a move that’s ignited fierce debate, Florida lawmakers appear set to approve controversial legislation that aims to ban so-called "sanctuary cities" in the state. Bills in the House and Senate both passed their final committees last week and are making their way to discussion.
The legislation would require local police to honor requests from federal immigration authorities to detain people who are thought to be in the United States illegally. The House version would fine local governments that don’t cooperate with federal requests.
Critics say the legislation is an attempt to incite fear in immigrant communities and would have a negative effect on local law enforcement efforts by chipping away at trust and community relations between officers and crime victims.
On The Florida Roundup Friday, Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, who filed the Senate proposal, said the legislation seeks to remove “bad criminal illegal aliens” who’ve previously broken the law.
“If they want to stay here they should probably move to some sanctuary [state] like California because they’re not gonna be welcome,” he said.
Immigration has dominated national politics under President Donald Trump, with debates over federal funding for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, families separated at the border and Trump considering the release of undocumented immigrants into sanctuary cities.
The federal attention on immigration has also been an impetus to state policy.
Past attempts to pass legislation banning sanctuary cities in Florida were shot down in the Senate. But this year, Gruters, who is also the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, made it a top priority. Gov. Ron DeSantis has also expressed his support for sanctuary city legislation.
The bill would put a definition of “sanctuary city” into law, Gruters said.
“That’s basically saying that you cannot have local government officials in jurisdictions preventing cooperation between local governments and federal immigration authorities or laws,” he said.
Under the House proposal, HB 527, law enforcement or local governmental entities may not support “sanctuary policies.” Those that do could be removed from office.
It would also allow the state to fine local governments penalties of between $1,000 and $5,000 per day that a sanctuary policy is in effect.
The Senate proposal, SB 168, doesn’t include the penalties, but it would give the attorney general authority to bring civil actions against state entities, local government entities or law enforcement agencies that do not cooperate with federal authorities.
At question in the Florida legislation is what’s known as an “immigration detainer,” or a request for local law enforcement to detain a person for 48 hours based on the probable cause that the person is undocumented, so that federal immigration authorities can come to local jails to make arrests. Many Florida counties and cities do not currently have agreements in place with ICE.
Civil rights and immigrants' rights leaders argue that Florida’s legislation could violate the constitution by failing to guarantee detained immigrants have access to due process. They also say it will increase racial profiling.
Earlier this month, the ACLU issued a “travel advisory” that urged immigrants and people of color to “use extreme caution when traveling in Florida.”
BREAKING: We and partners have issued a travel advisory urging immigrants and people of color to use extreme caution when traveling in Florida.
The state is on the verge of passing a draconian anti-immigrant bill which will endanger our communities.
— ACLU (@ACLU) April 8, 2019
While Gruters said the legislation aims to remove “bad illegals” from the system, Basma Alawee, the Florida Refugee Organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said Friday on The Florida Roundup that the legislation feels like an attack on all immigrants.
“These bills follow in the famous steps of Texas, Alabama, Tennessee and Arizona,” she said. They “would require the state and local law enforcement to actively assist federal immigrant officials at Florida taxpayer expense in arresting and deporting our neighbors and family members.”
“Immigrants make up a quarter of the labor force in Florida and yet we’re still getting attacked,” she added.
Gruters insisted that only the “most violent criminals” will be removed.
But advocates point to research that repeatedly shows that detainers generally do not focus on people with serious convictions and are often used arbitrarily by ICE.
Earlier this year, Miami-Dade County reported that ICE sent the county 420 detainer requests for U.S. citizens in the two-year span between February 2017 and February 2019.
Alawee also added that she prefers the term “undocumented” to Gruters’ use of “illegal alien” or “illegal.”
“There is no illegal human,” she said.