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Sanctuary city ban passes first hurdle in Florida Senate

Immigration activists believe the legislation is a political ploy to score points with the Trump administration.

Immigration activists from across Florida gathered at the state capitol in Tallahassee Tuesday. (Credit: Tomas Kennedy/Florida Immigrant Coalition)
Immigration activists from across Florida gathered at the state capitol in Tallahassee Tuesday. (Credit: Tomas Kennedy/Florida Immigrant Coalition)

A bill that would prevent municipalities from organizing themselves as sanctuary cities in passed the Florida state Senate Tuesday afternoon, delivering a blow to the state’s undocumented communities.

The bill would require every single jurisdiction in Florida to share information with federal immigration authorities, something almost every single local municipality already does. Immigration activists are concerned the bill would potentially do further harm, by incentivizing racial profiling and fracturing the fragile trust between immigrant communities and local police.

“What we are seeing is the criminalization of everyday immigrants just trying to live their lives,” Tomas Kennedy, political director at Florida Immigrant Coalition told ThinkProgress. “Republicans have no answers to how this will be implemented or who it will apply to. They say this bill will only apply to criminals, but what about undocumented individuals who drive every day without a license, taking their kids to school or running errands? If you get caught driving without a license three times in Florida it’s a felony. That person would be then be held by local law enforcement on an ICE detainer, transferred to a detention facility, and possibly deported, all because they were stopped by the police.”

“Either [Republicans] are being disingenuous or they don’t understand how their own bill works,” he added.

The original bill included extreme sanctions for public officials. The language of the original measure mandated that elected officials who refused to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officials would face removal from office. These sanctions were removed to make the legislation more “palatable.”

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Senate Bill 168 was introduced at the beginning of the year by Republican Sen. Joe Gruters, who also serves as the chairman of the state’s Republican Party. Gruters has stated explicitly that using such bills to target sanctuary cities — jurisdictions where state and local law enforcement officials refuse to obey federal immigration laws — is, for him, a “top priority.” In so doing, Gruters echoes Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who promised in his inauguration to put an end to sanctuary cities.

Yet despite all the hemming and hawing from Republicans about the threats posed to Floridians by sanctuary cities, no such municipality currently exists in the state. Kennedy and other immigration activists believe the legislation is nothing more than a political ploy, designed to curry favor with the Trump administration.

Miami Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D) has compared the false sanctuary city crisis being perpetuated by Florida Republicans to the fake crisis at the Southern Border President Trump is pedaling.

“We’re supposed to believe that there is a crisis of local governments not sharing information with ICE. That’s not true,” the state senator told ThinkProgress. “The phantom of abolishing sanctuary cities is the same phantom of needing a concrete wall.”

“Part of the objection of the bill even though they wont admit it is to sow into that division that is behind the bizarre Trump campaign promise to build a wall,” the Miami Democrat added. “It’s the same impulse. The details don’t seem to matter. What matters is to make the lives of certain members of our community more difficult.”

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Sen. Rodriguez proposed a number of amendments to the bill that would carve out protections for certain vulnerable undocumented immigrants, like those who are the victims of crimes. One of the major reasons immigration activists disapprove of legislation that empowers local law enforcement to act as immigration officials is because it often results in undocumented victims of crime failing to report the crimes against them out of the fear of being detained. Another amendment proposed by Rodriguez would have made the bill’s language as to what constitutes a sanctuary city match the language in federal law. This would prevent the legislation from creating sanctuary cities where they don’t exist. Both amendments failed to pass.

While the bill has cleared it’s first hurdle in the Senate, it still has to pass two more committees before heading to the floor for a full vote. A sister bill will be introduced in the Florida House, where it is expected to pass, in keeping with the passage of similar in previous years.