Two prominent Miami-area Republicans say the federal government’s inability to address comprehensive immigration issues is creating a void that’s allowing state lawmakers to push controversial bills like the one now moving through the Florida Legislature. That proposal would ban so-called “sanctuary cities” and compel local law enforcement agencies to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain people.
“Those types of legislative initiatives are more than anything symptoms of the federal government failing to meaningfully address this issue,” says former U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a South Florida Republican who narrowly lost to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in one of the most competitive congressional elections in the country last November.
“Once the Congress does its work, there will not be the need for any of these types of efforts in the state to restrict immigration or try to enforce federal immigration law,” Curbelo added in a conference call on Thursday. The call was organized by Florida business officials who are promoting a policy paper called the Florida Compact on Immigration.
A bipartisan group of over 65 business and civic leaders have signed on to the Florida Compact on Immigration, including former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Al Cardenas.
In addition to defining what a so-called “sanctuary city” actually is, the billwould require all local law enforcement agencies in the state to honor a federal law enforcement’s request to detain a person for up to 48 hours after they have been arrested. It’s sponsored by state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who also serves as chairman for the Republican Party of Florida.
“Ultimately, immigration is a federal issue, and when the states try to deal with it, their hands are tied (and) you have bills such as this come out,” added state Senator Anitere Flores, a Republican from Miami-Dade County.
Flores serves on the Senate Rules Committee, where Gruters’ bill is headed next. She opposed a similar immigration bill in the Senate last year, and said that it doesn’t address the bigger problem with immigration right now, which is how to address immigrants who want to legally enter the U.S.
“It’s a frustrating call to action by state legislators to sponsor bills like this,” she said of Gruters’ proposal.
There are six principles included in the compact, including one that addresses “effective enforcement.”
“A sensible and honorable law enforcement strategy would focus on public safety, target serious crime and safeguard witnesses and victims,” reads a portion of that principle.
Among the arguments that critics have leveled against Gruters’ hard-line bill is that it will chill relations between immigrant communities and law enforcement, which they contend could harm public safety.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida also says the proposal could cause more U.S. citizens to be improperly detained. The ACLU is involved in two lawsuits in Monroe and Miami-Dade counties, one which alleges that an American citizen was detained illegally – and nearly deported – due to mistaken identity.
The federal government has not addressed comprehensive immigration reform since 2013, when the U.S. Senate passed a bill that included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It was never introduced in the U.S. House.