Communities in Florida that are considered “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants, such as Broward and Palm Beach counties, would have to do away with those practices or risk fines and other penalties from the state, under controversial legislation that passed its first legislative committee on Monday.
If the bill becomes law, county and local law enforcement agencies would also be required — at their taxpayers’ cost, with no guarantee of reimbursement — to comply with federal immigration detention requests, which are currently only optional.
Although the proposal (HB 697) easily advanced out of the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee by a 9-5 vote, it drew unanimous opposition from at least 20 audience members who spoke — including immigrant advocates.
The five Democrats on the committee voted against it, including Miami-Dade Democrats Cynthia Stafford of Miami, and Barbara Watson of Miami Gardens. Broward County Republican Rep. George Moraitis, of Fort Lauderdale, supported it.The bill has two more committee hearings before it could reach the House floor.
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Honoring the law shouldn’t peg you as a ‘sanctuary.’
Edward Labrador, Broward County’s intergovernmental affairs director
Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said federal immigration law has no teeth that mandates states comply with enforcement, and that his bill would bring “meaning and effect” to immigration laws, in Florida at least.
“This bill does not attempt to impose another parallel system of immigration law in Florida,” Metz said. It would make Florida “take it upon itself to say it has a role and responsibility in enforcing existing federal immigration law.”
“We want to make sure that the legal system is honored and respected and that people use that system to come to our country,” he said.
But immigrant advocates and civil rights organizations vehemently oppose Metz’s plan, saying it’s hostile to immigrants and circumvents local authority.
“This bill ultimately cannot be enforced without legalizing racial profiling,” said Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Because, how do you know that I’m undocumented without actually targeting particular communities that are the most vulnerable and holding people on [U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement] requests?”
Democrats on the committee shared those and other concerns opponents raised.
“Your bill would make an ICE detainer have the force of law in Florida,” Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, said. “There’s no way I can support something that would have that effect.”
We want to make sure that the legal system is honored and respected and that people use that system to come to our country.
Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha
Legislative analysts, citing data from the Center for Immigration Studies, named six counties in Florida whose sheriff’s offices had enacted policies “limiting cooperation with ICE specifically by placing conditions on honoring immigration detainers” — Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties. (Until recently, Miami-Dade County was also on that list.)
Among other “concerns,” Broward County objects to being classified as an immigrant sanctuary and it also questions the Legislature’s use of the Center for Immigration Studies as its official source, said Edward Labrador, Broward County’s intergovernmental affairs director.
“Broward County has never adopted any law, any regulation, any practice, any custom — at all — limiting our cooperation with ICE officials, the federal government or anything having to do with enforcing federal policy,” Labrador said.
What the center’s list called a “sanctuary” policy was actually a Broward County sheriff’s memorandum “to advise police officers that, basically, you have to have probable cause to honor these ICE detainers,” Labrador said. “And you know what? That’s based upon interpretations by our federal courts, the interpretations of our laws, of our Constitution, of our civil liberties.”
“Honoring the law shouldn’t peg you as a ‘sanctuary,’ ” he added.
Fearing the loss of federal funding by the Trump Administration, Miami-Dade ended its informal status earlier this year as a “sanctuary” for immigrants in the country illegally. The county commission last month backed up a controversial order from Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who told county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests.
But that new policy was recently ruled unconstitutional by a circuit court judge. The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents the federal government from forcing states to enforce federal law.
Metz said his bill “recognizes that shortcoming in the federal-state system” and that “the basis for that [Miami-Dade] opinion would not be necessary if we had this bill in the law.”
Metz’s legislation has an array of specific impacts, including formally defining a “sanctuary policy,” prohibiting governments from adopting them and requiring any existing policies to be repealed within three months — or the government entity risks a fine of up to $5,000 a day.
The Legislature could withhold state grant funding for five years from governments that violate the proposed law, and the governor would also be empowered to remove any elected official from office who violates it.
Other provisions include requiring government officials and workers to report “known or probable violations” of the act — under threat of suspension or removal from elected office — and requires the attorney general to investigate those reports. Whistle-blowers who report violations would be explicitly protected.
Additionally, victims and their families would have the right to sue a government entity if its sanctuary policy gave a criminal the opportunity to commit a crime that would have otherwise been prevented had the sanctuary policy not been in place.
In arguing for that particular provision, lawmakers repeatedly cite the highly publicized murder of Katie Steinle in San Francisco, but Metz offers no examples of similar cases in Florida. He said they’re “trying to prevent that from happening in Florida.”
Steinle was killed by a Mexican laborer who had been deported five times and was released from a local jail a couple of months before shooting Steinle.
Similar efforts to ban “sanctuary” cities last year failed. That measure passed the House with Republican support, but the Senate never considered it.
This year, the Senate version, SB 786 by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, has not gotten a hearing yet but it is expected to. A co-sponsor of Bean’s bill is Judiciary chairman and Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, to whose committee Bean’s bill is first assigned.