Florida Legislature poised to send Trump-style immigration bill banning 'sanctuary cities' to governor

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Florida is on the verge of signing onto one of President Donald Trump’s top priorities — outlawing so-called sanctuary cities that offer protections to undocumented residents.

The Florida Senate voted 22-18 Friday to approve a bill that requires state, county and city agencies to work with federal immigration authorities. A similar bill passed the House earlier this week.

State lawmakers took up the issue even though there are no sanctuary jurisdictions in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“This bill is about respecting the rule of law,” said Sen. Joe Gruters, who sponsored the legislation and also chairs the Republican Party of Florida. “It’s about cooperating with the federal government, and it’s about promoting public safety,”

In recent years, the Senate had blocked efforts to ban sanctuary cities. The House and Senate will need to iron out differences in their bills before it is sent to the governor for his signature.

Under bill, counties and cities would be required to use their “best efforts to support the enforcement of federal immigration law.” The House version of the bill allows local officials deemed to be “sanctuary policymakers” to be be fined up to $5,000 a day.

The bill requires local jails to fully comply with requests from to hold inmates for federal immigration authorities.

The proposal spurred heated debate and boisterous protests in a state where one-out-of-every-five residents is foreign born.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a travel alert warning visitors they could “face risks of being racially profiled and being detained without probable cause” if the sanctuary city legislation becomes law. Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina told a Spanish-language radio program that he’d quit his job if his officers were required to check the immigration status of people they encounter.

Senate Democrats succeeded in passing an amendment that exempts state prosecutors and the Department of Children of Families from the requirements.

While Republicans said the bill was aimed at dangerous criminals, Democrats said it will make immigrants fearful to report crimes and could result in them being targeted for deportation for low-level offenses, even for a minor violation like driving without a license.

“These are the people keeping the engine of our state going,” said Sen.Annette Taddeo, D-Miami. “These are the hard-working people. It’s mean to call human beings aliens. It’s mean to assume all undocumented people are bad people.”

Republicans declined to take up an amendment filed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, that would have specified that information could only be shared with immigration authorities for undocumented people accused of felony offenses.

Recently elected Gov. Ron DeSantis made a sanctuary city ban a key campaign promise.

While the Legislature embraced that initiative, it declined to take up another priority for DeSantis to require businesses to use the federal E-Verify system that checks the immigration status of new hires.

Detainer requests addressed in the sanctuary city bill has been an issue in South Florida.

In 2014, Broward and Palm Beach counties implemented a policy to honor only detention requests from immigration officials that are accompanied by a deportation order or a warrant signed by a federal judge.

The detention requests are intended to give immigration authorities up to 48 hours to take custody of an inmate. But sheriff’s officials say they have practical reasons for not honoring the requests, citing court decisions that holding inmates beyond release dates could violate their rights. The courts ruled that the detention requests are voluntary.

Those detainer requests also have consequences for local budgets. Miami-Dade County had a policy that it would only hold inmates for immigration authorities if the federal government fully covered the cost but repealed it because of pressure from the Trump administration, Undoing that policy has cost $13.6 million.

The legislation brought the nation’s immigration debate to Tallahassee. Protesters chanted in the Capitol’s corridors. Families of crime victims testified to lawmakers about how their loved ones were harmed by crimes committed by undocumented residents.

Isabel Ruano, a volunteer with the Florida Poor People’s Campaign, wore a shirt Friday that read “No Human Beings are Illegal.” She said the Legislature’s action has only increased the fear immigrants are feeling under the Trump administration.

“People don’t know what to do,” she said. “People will be looking for guidance. People might be looking at moving out of state.”

Trump vowed to cut off funding to sanctuary cities shortly after he took office. West Palm Beach was one of 23 jurisdictions targeted by the Justice Department in January 2018 as part of its efforts to withhold funding.

West Palm Beach adopted a resolution in 2017 declaring itself to be a “welcoming city” for immigrants. About 27 percent of the city’s population is foreign born.

The measure prohibited city employees from asking about a person’s immigration status or assisting in an immigration investigation unless required by state of federal law. As part of a settlement with the federal government, city officials sent a letter to employees stating they are free to divulge

sswisher@sunsentinel.com, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher



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