Two weeks after a law banning so-called sanctuary cities in Florida went into effect, the city of South Miami and a host of advocacy groups have filed a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of Florida, seeking an injunction to stop any further implementation of the law.
While there are no sanctuary cities in Florida (a point made repeatedly by critics throughout last spring’s legislative session), the new law does prohibit local governments from adopting policies to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation. Undocumented immigrants who are detained for breaking the law – even for minor violations – are now vulnerable to deportation.
Linking federal immigration officers with local law enforcement “leads to racial profiling, civil rights violations, isolation of immigrant communities, and unjust deportations,” said Paul Chavez, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.
The lawsuit alleges that the original version of the legislation was drafted by “anti-immigration hate groups,” specifically mentioning the Federation for American Immigration Reform and its Florida affiliate, Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. The suit claims that the bill’s sponsors (which includes Florida Republican Party chairman Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota and Jacksonville Republican state Rep.Cord Byrd in the House) used “biased data” provided by the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies in their staff analysis of the bill.
“SB 168 was drafted by these anti-immigrant hate groups to spread fear in the state,” the suit reads. “As a result of their successful attempt to rope Florida representatives into promoting their hateful ideals, Floridians must now bear the consequences of an unconstitutional law.”
The sanctuary cities law instructs local law enforcement to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which the suit claims will turn local police into federal immigration agents which “undermines any trust the police have built with the immigrant community.”
The suit argues that several sections of the law are unconstitutionally vague, preempted by federal law, and violate the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment equal protection clause.
State Sen. Gruters shepherded the bill that became law, and his efforts were backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who campaigned on the issue.
“We have a strong interest as a state, when we have criminal aliens in our custody, to effectuate their removal from our communities,” DeSantis said last month when signing the bill in Republican-friendly Okaloosa County. “And so sanctuary cities basically create law-free zones where people can come to our country illegally, commit criminal offenses, then walk right out the door and pretend you didn’t do it. I’m happy to say, once I sign this bill, in Florida that will not happen.”
In addition to South Miami, the lawsuit was also filed by a host of immigration advocacy groups, including the Florida Immigrant Coalition and the Farmworker Association of Florida. The groups are being represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Community Justice Project, and the Immigration Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law.
“Our police are responsible for maintaining public safety,” South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard said at a city council meeting last week when the city voted to join this lawsuit. “And as soon as they are seen as somebody who might turn you in if you call for assistance, they are no longer trusted.”
State Sen. Gruters blasted Stoddard and other South Miami officials last week after hearing that they were considering a lawsuit, writing on his Facebook page that he was “disgusted to see a city in Florida use tax-dollars to protect criminals who are in our country illegally!”