Fabiola Santiago

Latinos, you’ll need your passport in a new Florida where cops are ICE agents, too | Opinion

Florida Immigrant Coalition opposes anti-sanctuary city bill

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.
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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.

Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee have succeeded in passing anti-sanctuary legislation.

It’s a slap in the face to Hispanics and other minorities in a state where one out of five residents is an immigrant. It’s also an effort to stymie the growth and welfare of Latinos for the partisan reason that non-Cubans are seen as Democratic-leaning.

The GOP has succeeded in creating an atmosphere in the state unfriendly to immigrants. And, by default, the repressive vibe extends to all Hispanics and minorities, now more vulnerable to being profiled and harassed at every twist and turn, civil rights advocates fear.

So much so that the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a travel warning for Florida with good reason.

“Warning: All travelers, including U.S. citizens, should be advised you may encounter racial profiling, unjust detention, deportation.”

Latinos, you’ll need to keep your passport handy in a new Florida where cops are ICE agents, too.

The legislation banning sanctuary city policies — and threatening local government agencies and employees with penalties and removal from office if they don’t comply — was approved by the Senate Friday. Its passing in the House along party lines — in a session led by Cuban-American Speaker of the House Rep. José Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican — generated national headlines.

The measure is unnecessary because local authorities already honor federal immigration detainer requests when undocumented inmates complete their sentences.

In some Florida cities, police have been already been documented mistreating immigrants and calling ICE and Border Patrol on people — a tactic not usually embraced by law enforcement because it deters witnesses from coming forward and victims from reporting crimes. There are other barriers to deportation that have nothing to do with local willingness. In the case of Cubans, for example, the Cuban government has a record of declining to accept deportees.

No good will come of the legislation, but it has the potential to do a lot of harm, unleashing xenophobes already stoked by the president and driving the undocumented deeper underground in Florida.

That vulnerability always leads to abuses.

The horrible case of a Pembroke Pines pastor who got away with raping a teen girl for a year by threatening to report her family’s immigration status to authorities illustrates this point perfectly.

Everyone is in danger when immigrants fearful of calling attention to themselves or family members fail to report crimes. God knows how many others this creep has raped.

If that doesn’t convince you that this is a bad idea, consider the threat to our Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution.

“Florida residents, citizens and non-citizens, and travelers could face risks of being racially profiled and being detained without probable cause,” the ACLU said in a statement. “If Florida Senate Bill 168 and House Bill 527 pass, it would undermine local governments’ ability to protect the civil rights of their residents by forcing local officials to cooperate with ICE.”

In both chambers, the bills are the work of President Trump allies who talk out of both sides of their mouths while courting Latino voters.

You don’t spend an entire legislative session trying to undermine immigrant families with a bill that turns local police officers into an extended arm of immigration law enforcement — and then get to claim that Venezuelans are welcome in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis. This bill puts them at risk of deportation, too.

Democrats tried to exempt Venezuelans, but failed without Republican support.

Elections also should come with the warning that fuzzy campaign talk doesn’t match the walk.

Despite a dwindling undocumented population in the state, the popular governor, an avowed Trump ally in Congress, has been calling for legislation that bans sanctuary cities — even though there aren’t any in Florida — since the campaign. After he was elected by a thin margin, DeSantis made it clear it was a priority of his administration.

And who happily took up DeSantis on the issue and made it his legislative priority?

None other than President Donald Trump’s 2016 Florida campaign co-chairman, Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who is also chairman of the Florida GOP. The reason: politics.

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. Giuseppe Sabella

Gruters defends the measure by repeating the Washington talking point that if you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to fear.

But that’s not true.

We all have something to fear — if not, you wouldn’t find so many local police agencies arguing against turning cops into ICE agents.

The real purpose of this legislation is to enshrine anti-immigrant rhetoric in the country’s third-largest state and send a message: This state is Trump country.

Voters should remember that for many election cycles to come.

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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.”