Fabiola Santiago

Sanctuary city bill keeps making a comeback in Florida for one reason: Politics | Opinion

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, speaks at a news conference on Jan. 10, 2019, at Mote Marine in Sarasota. Gruters, who was co-chair of President Donald Trump’s Florida campaign in 2016, is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, speaks at a news conference on Jan. 10, 2019, at Mote Marine in Sarasota. Gruters, who was co-chair of President Donald Trump’s Florida campaign in 2016, is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

The chairman of Florida’s Republican Party, Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, is the sponsor of a bill that bans “sanctuary policies” in the state and requires all local governments and law enforcement agencies to support the implementation of immigration law.

Last year, a similar bill failed, but Gruters’ GOP colleagues are pushing SB168 through Senate committees as if it were a hot ticket item.

The measure, however, is nothing but a scam to intimidate and harass immigrant communities — and an excuse to arrest and detain people who aren’t criminals to feed the for-profit federal immigration detention system, a booming industry in Florida.

Most importantly for the GOP, it’s a way for Gruters, who co-chaired the 2016 Trump campaign in the state, to show support for President Donald Trump’s rhetoric with the base. A repeat of the anti-immigrant formula is the thing to energize voters at a time when so many of the president’s associates are either in jail or indicted and his moral reputation soiled by scandal after scandal.

Another Trump ally, Gov. Ron DeSantis, has called the ban of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants in Florida a top priority of his administration — even as he stands next to President Trump to defend freedom-seeking Venezuelans, many of whom are in Florida with expired visas or pending asylum claims.

Under Gruters’ bill, any misstep, however small, could cost Venezuelans detention and deportation back to Nicolás Maduro’s regime. The same goes for Nicaraguans who have fled Daniel Ortega’s repression.

But with an election on the horizon, if Gruters and company could build a wall around Florida and tell Floridians they’re not paying for it, they would.

This is how easy it is to call their bluff: Florida has no sanctuary cities or counties.

There’s no need for the state to crack down on local governments that fail to cooperate with federal immigration authorities because such valor on behalf of one of the most vulnerable populations in the state is rare or nonexistent in these times.

The only region that existed as a sanctuary of sorts, Miami-Dade County, caved the minute Trump was elected and issued a threat to withhold federal funding. Despite court rulings against Trump on the issue, Miami-Dade has continued holding for ICE any undocumented immigrant who has served time in the county jail, no matter how small the offense.

“This is about criminal illegal aliens who are violating the law,” Gruters insists. “It’s not about hardworking citizens.”

But his bill can easily turn into a law that harasses and destroys the lives of law-abiding people. We’ve already seen cases of fathers being picked up by ICE taking their children to school, of a chef arrested and put into deportation proceedings on his way to work because he blocked an intersection, to name a few cases.

Members of Florida's immigrant population express their disappointment after a Senate Judiciary Committee voted on a bill that would prohibit “sanctuary cities” and require state and local law enforcement to comply with U.S.

Democratic lawmakers and immigrant rights advocates are fighting back.

“The fact is we don’t have not even one sanctuary city in Florida,” said Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo of Kendall at a news conference Monday in Tallahassee that Gruters crashed. “This is not about [scoring political] points. This about people’s lives.”

Taddeo said that the bill would damage police relations with immigrant communities and make people fearful of reporting crimes or domestic abuse, a point that has often been made by law enforcement agencies.

That endangers everyone.

“Why create this phantom of sanctuary cities?” asked Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami. “Frankly, it’s to keep the issue of immigration alive.” And he added that the issue is ending the “honeymoon period” with a more moderate DeSantis.

Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando called the bill hypocritical.

“Republicans have to decide. You can’t have it both ways. Are you going to stand with the people of Venezuela who are fleeing the Maduro regime or are you going to deport them?”


I would add that Republicans don’t have to try so hard to please Trump’s base.

You’ve heard it from the man himself, and his scandal-ridden tenure in office has proved him right: He could commit murder and his fans would still love and support him.

Immigrants need not be made scapegoats for the win.

There’s only one reason this sanctuary city bill keeps making a comeback in Florida: Cheap politics.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”