Legislation to fine local governments if they don’t coordinate with federal immigration agents passes in Florida House

Florida Immigrant Coalition
Immigration agents detain woman after searching bus. Photo by Florida Immigrant Coalition

(Updated)

The Florida House passed a controversial proposal on Wednesday that would force local law enforcement agencies around the state to coordinate with federal immigration authorities to detain people who are suspected to be in the United States illegally.

The measure was supported mostly along party lines in the GOP-led body, 69-47. It came after several hours of intense and passionate debate. The bill now moves on to the Senate before it gets to the governor.

“Today is a sad day for Florida,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Luisana Pérez. “House Republicans today sold out their communities to Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis by passing this xenophobic and discriminatory bill. It’s abhorrent that Republican members who represent immigrant communities are now turning their backs on their constituents and jeopardizing their safety.”

The bill would require that local governments that don’t cooperate would face fines of $1,000 to $5,000 per day for violating the law.

Companion legislation in the Florida Senate wouldn’t  impose fines on local governments. Instead, it would allow Florida’s Attorney General to file civil actions against local governments that don’t cooperate with federal authorities.

Though there is no definition of a so-called “sanctuary” jurisdiction in federal law, it’s generally considered to be a place where a local government opts not to cooperate with federal authorities in apprehending undocumented immigrants.

On Tuesday, activists held a spirited rally before the House session began to denounce the legislation.

“The only thing this bill is right for is to fuel racism and xenophobia in the Sunshine State, and that is not right,” said Maria Rodriguez, executive director with the Florida Immigration Coalition.

The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Cord Byrd, a Republican from Neptune Beach. He disputes the charge that the bill is anti-immigrant, insisting it’s about public safety.

“This isn’t about national immigration policy,” Byrd insisted during Tuesday night’s debate. “This bill only applies to someone who has committed a crime and is in custody.”

Byrd has said that while there may not officially be any “sanctuary cities” in Florida, there are local governments that embrace sanctuary policies. But when asked by South Florida Democratic Rep. Cindy Polo if he could name any such cities or counties, Byrd said he could not. He later cited the city of Orlando, which adopted a policy last summer banning its police officers from asking “law-abiding” individuals about their immigration status or discriminating against them because of their status or ability to speak English.

House Democrats filed more than a dozen amendments to try to slow down the legislation, which has appeared destined to pass since the beginning of the lawmaking session. None of them gained any traction with Republicans, who have a large majority in the House.

The bill seems targeted towards officials like Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, who told a Miami radio station last month that he’d rather be thrown off the police force than be compelled to comply with the proposal.

Similar proposals have been approved in the House over the past three years, but they’ve come up short in the Senate.

That doesn’t appear to be the case this year, with some of the biggest names in Republican Florida politics behind the legislation, such as Senate bill sponsor Joe Gruters from Sarasota, who is now the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. It also has the full support of Governor Ron DeSantis, who campaigned on a pledge to prohibit “sanctuary cities” in Florida.

It is unclear what it costs for local governments to comply with federal immigration detention orders. According to the Board of County Commissioners in Miami-Dade County, compliance with immigration detainers in 2011 and 2012 cost the county $1,002,700 and $667,076, respectively.

The bill does not include funding for local governments to hold undocumented immigrants. The current agreement between the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and the local sheriffs provides for $50 a day. Democrats repeatedly asked if the bill could cost counties money.

Byrd finally admitted that it could cost them money.

That prompted Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat from Broward County, to claim that the bill is an unfunded mandate. Byrd denied that it was.

Thirty-four Florida sheriffs already have agreements with ICE to hold undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours.

Opposition to the legislation has been intense among Democrats and immigration advocates. Republicans – with the exception of Miami state Senator Anitere Flores – have supported the bill as it has moved through committees in the House and Senate.

The bill will be voted on for the first time by the entire Senate on Thursday.

 

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