Roughly 300 immigration activists flooded the halls of the Florida state Capitol building in Tallahassee on Tuesday to protest a secret immigration deal that would fast-track a bill they say would impose a new form of family separation.
Senate Bill 168, and its sister legislation HB 527 in the House, would prevent municipalities from designating themselves as sanctuary cities — despite the fact that no sanctuary cities currently exist in the state of Florida. Nearly every municipality already shares information with federal immigration authorities, but the new bill would require local law enforcement to comply with federal requests to detain undocumented immigrants for potential deportation proceedings. Immigration activists worry that the bill will incentivize racial profiling and fracture the fragile trust between immigrant communities and local police.
For example, in Florida, getting caught driving without a license three times is a felony. Under SB 168, if an undocumented person with a clean criminal record gets pulled over by police, they would be held by local law enforcement on an ICE detainer, and they would then be transferred to an ICE detention facility and possibly deported.
“Raise your hand if you know someone who has been deported” pic.twitter.com/PFnRoTnUkB
— Samantha J. Gross (@samanthajgross) March 26, 2019
“[My husband] was detained by immigration on February 20, he was deported on March 20, and now I’m alone with my two children,” an immigration activist named Lilli told the crowd at the Capitol. “This is why I don’t want this bill to pass, because more mothers are going to left on their own.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, on Monday afternoon a state senator from each party and members from the agriculture industry struck a deal that would advance SB 168, while blocking a proposal to implement E-Verify, a federal database that checks on the immigration status of new hires.
“Such a deal says that it’s not okay to target immigrants at the workplace, but it is okay to target them while driving to work or church and dropping their children at school,” Mike Fernandez, a billionaire political donor with knowledge of the deal told the paper.
To immigration activists, the rumored deal is a slap in the face to their communities, who work and pay taxes, just like U.S. citizens.
“This is a tradeoff of business interests at the expense of immigrant communities,” Ida V. Eskamani, of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, told reporters on a press call. “Our communities are being used as bargaining chips and it will have severe economic consequences.”
SB 168 is opposed not only by immigration activist groups, but also Democratic politicians, including Miramar Mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Wayne Messam, who states the legislation is rooted in “prejudice and fear-mongering.” Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo told the Miami Herald plainly that “this bill is about reelecting Donald Trump […] that’s all this bill is.”
Just two Republican legislators have opposed the bill, including state Sen. Anitere Flores. Flores represents parts of south Miami-Dade county including Homestead, where one of the largest child detention centers in the country is located.
State law enforcement officials also are uncomfortable with the legislation. Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina has said he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if he was forced to address a victim’s immigration status.
“The truth is, I’d prefer not to have this job if I have to ask fellow officers to check where someone came from before helping them,” Colina said on a Spanish-language radio show last week.
“I don’t care if you have papers or don’t have papers, where you came from, or who your parents are,” he added. “That’s not my job. My job is to make sure everyone in this city is safe.”
The bill passed along party lines in its first two committees, with just one left. In the House, HB 527 passed its first committee hearing and had another cancelled, further fast-tracking the process.