Newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis promised on the campaign trail to crack down on undocumented immigrants. One of his chief targets: ridding Florida of so-called “sanctuary cities” – communities that refuse to help federal authorities detain undocumented immigrants.
DeSantis went so far as to say that he would remove local officials from office if they supported such policies.
Critics labeled the rhetoric as GOP political “red meat” with little real-world implications, since Florida doesn’t have any sanctuary cities or counties.
Nevertheless, the Republican Legislature is on the same track. This week, Jacksonville Beach Representative Cord Byrd filed the “Rule of Law Adherence Act,” which would require state and local governmental agencies to comply with and support federal immigration law enforcement.
Similar legislation has been introduced the past three years by Florida House Republicans, but the bills have died quietly in the Senate. Some GOP lawmakers are more confident than ever that 2019 could be the year to pass a sanctuary cities law. Two similar companion bills to Boyd’s have already been filed in the Senate. One is from Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean, the other from Sarasota’s Joe Gruters – newly elected chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Activist groups who work with immigrants say the proposed legislation would negatively affect millions of Floridians.
“With attacks on the national level being amplified by local anti-immigrant policies, it’s more important than ever for immigrants to feel like they can turn to their local elected officials and police force to protect them,” said Maria Rodriguez, the executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Instead, immigrant communities are being threatened, profiled, harassed and detained in greater numbers. Why would we want to use our valuable local resources towards hurting our families and our budgets?”
“Anti-immigrant laws have no place in Florida,” added American Civil Liberties Union of Florida political director Kirk Bailey. “Law enforcement’s primary function is to protect and serve all communities. These cruel policies only serve to further corrode community trust in law enforcement, drain valuable law enforcement resources, and make Florida less safe.”
A year ago, at least 17 Florida sheriff’s departments announced a pilot program where they agreed to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants in local jails longer than they normally would so that ICE would have more time to respond. Several more sheriff’s departments throughout the state signed onto the program, but the sheriff at one of the state’s biggest counties, Hillsborough’s Chad Chronister, quietly dropped out of the program late last year.
In January 2018, the Department of Justice threatened 23 American cities with subpoenas if they failed to provide documents showing that they were cooperating with federal immigration enforcement officers. West Palm Beach was the only Florida city on that list. City officials responded by suing the government, claiming that is policies did comply with federal law. In June 2018, West Palm Beach settled its dispute with the DOJ. As part of the settlement, the city issued a memo to all employees, informing them they were authorized to share information status of individuals.