South Miami

South Miami says it will challenge Florida’s ban on sanctuary cities in court

The city of South Miami will soon join the Southern Poverty Law Center and a University of Miami law school clinic and push back against a new law banning sanctuary cities, as commissioners unanimously agreed Tuesday to hire an attorney to file suit against the controversial measure.

SB 168, which was passed by the state Legislature this spring, requires local and state law enforcement to comply with federal immigration detainers — law enforcement requests that police agencies detain immigrants arrested for other reasons if a federal agency has probable cause to believe the immigrant could be deported. It also requires police agencies to share information on detained immigrants with federal immigration authorities and prevents “sanctuary policies” from being implemented in Florida.

The bill was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, and went into effect July 1.

While opponents of the bill had argued there were no sanctuary cities in Florida, some do have sanctuary policies, according to the Ohio Jobs & Justice PAC, an advocacy organization, which cites a Department of Homeland Security report and other sources. South Miami is not on that list.

In a special meeting Tuesday evening, South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard voiced concern that the law would brew distrust between undocumented residents and law enforcement officers in the city of about 12,000 residents.

South Miami Mayor Phillip Stoddard Daniel A. Varela

“Our police are responsible for maintaining the public safety, and as soon as they are seen as somebody who might turn you in if you called for assistance, they’re no longer trusted and they can no longer do their primary job of keeping all the citizens and all the residents of a community safe,” Stoddard said. “It creates divisions.”

The Florida Immigrant Coalition, which opposed the bill, shares the concern.

“It’s an anti-immigrant bill that promotes fear in immigrant communities,” Coalition spokeswoman Melissa Taveras told the Herald. “If they are victims of a crime or witness to a crime, they are not going to report those crimes.” Taveras said the coalition “celebrates” South Miami’s decision to hire an attorney.

The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Neptune Beach) and Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), told the Herald they maintain the bill is legal. Both are confident that the suit won’t succeed in changing the law.

“They are going to lose,” said Gruters, who also serves as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “They are wasting tax dollars to protect criminals.”

The city of South Miami was approached by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which argues that the bill is unconstitutional and in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against on unreasonable seizure. The Southern Poverty Law Center declined to comment to the Herald on the suit before it is filed, or on whether it intends to approach additional jurisdictions about pursuing legal action.

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Action Fund, said after the bill’s signing in June that Republicans were fast-tracking it “to appease anti-immigrant voters and use racial grievance to drive a wedge between Floridians.”

Banning sanctuary cities was a key component of DeSantis’ 2018 campaign.

“I’m happy to report after having just one legislative session under our belt we’re delivering on the promises we made to the people of Florida,” he said as he signed the bill. DeSantis had called sanctuary cities “law-free zones” where people could enter the country unlawfully, commit crimes, “and then just walk out the door and continue to do it.”

Byrd and Gruters also said the bill was designed to promote public safety. Byrd said it was intended to “ensure U.S. citizens are not put at a disadvantage to illegal aliens.”