FL Democrats still fighting against Republican-led anti-immigration legislation

Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters and Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo before press conference on Monday
Sarasota Republican Sen. Joe Gruters and Miami-Dade Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo before press conference on Monday

Florida’s Democratic lawmakers brought out a new argument to oppose anti-immigration legislation on Monday – one that involves Venezuelans and the Nicolas Maduro-led regime.

The bill (SB 168) “will escalate mass deportations across the board. It will escalate the deportation of Venezuelans immigrants who may be sent back to their country to be slaughtered by the Maduro regime,” said state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando. “That is totally out of sync with the Republican message that has been standing with those Venezuelans who have been persecuted.”

The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota, calls for the elimination of so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.

Gruters’ bill also calls for every local law enforcement agency to comply with the federal government in detaining undocumented immigrants, with critics saying law enforcement would become immigration police.

Currently, only 34 of Florida’s 67 counties have agreements in place with the federal government for full compliance with those detainers. The legislation would require all local enforcement agencies to have such an agreement.

Democrats at a news conference reiterated that there’s no reason for the legislation, stating that there are no “sanctuary cities” in Florida currently. The loose definition of that term is a local government that refuses to cooperate with the federal government regarding immigration issues.

Gruters, who watched the news conference from the 4th floor of the Capitol on Monday from a distance, told reporters afterwards that he agreed that there is no current definition of what a sanctuary city is currently, which is why his bill is needed.

“I have a lot of empathy for the immigrant community and the hard- working people that are obeying the laws across Florida trying to do what’s right. This is not about them,” he said. “This is not about immigration policy. This is about our local officials following federal immigration laws and cooperating with immigration authorities.”

However sometimes local law enforcement doesn’t get it right. Two civil liberties groups are currently suing the sheriff of Monroe Beach, claiming that he unlawfully detained and nearly deported a U.S. citizen in coordination with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) last year.

Gruters also added that his bill doesn’t target Venezuelans, and thus wasn’t stepping on the Republicans message regarding the Maduro regime.

State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, from Miami, said Gruters’ bill is simply a way to keep the divisive issue of immigration alive during this year’s legislative session. “It is for political purposes,” he declared.

Similar legislation has been proposed in recent years in the Florida Legislature, but has never passed in the more moderate leaning Senate, where several Miami-Dade Republicans have teamed up with Democrats to stop its movement. But some of those GOP moderate forces are no longer serving in the Senate.

Another factor giving the bill momentum is enthusiasm of Governor Ron DeSantis, who spoke frequently against sanctuary cities in his recent campaign.

Rodriguez said that the narrative built around DeSantis in his first two months in office is that the governor has been been less ideologically conservative than his campaign rhetoric suggested.

“At a time when people when a lot of people are talking about this honeymoon with the governor moderating on certain positions. Well, here’s a perfect issue to moderate on if you really want to extend this honeymoon period. Because it’s quickly ending.”

Gruters spoke to reporters for about ten minutes after the Democratic-led scheduled media event ended. He said he was confident that the bill would be approved by the state Senate. A companion bill in the House would also need to pass before getting to Governor DeSantis’ desk. The governor has indicated that he would sign such a bill.


Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.


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