Fabiola Santiago

Who benefits from Florida’s sweeping bid to turn police into ICE agents? Big GOP donor | Opinion

Why, why, why?

Why would Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, GOP chairman Joe Gruters and House Speaker José Oliva — the son of Cuban immigrants — resort to every maneuver in the legislative book in pursuit of sweeping legislation that turns state agencies into surrogates of immigration law enforcement?


Why would they stand against the best economic interests of a state highly invested in agriculture and tourism, not to mention Florida’s proud Spanish heritage, to turn police into agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement?


Why would they defy the better judgment of police departments, state agencies, civil rights groups — and immigrants pleading for the safety of their families — to pass an anti-sanctuary-cities bill in a state where there aren’t any, and in the process, gratuitously create a hostile environment for Hispanic communities?


The nation’s largest private-prison operator is based in Florida, and they’re big donors to the GOP, nationwide and in the state.

You might have heard of them back when they were Wackenhut, founded in Coral Gables by a former FBI agent with deep roots in the Republican Party. But it’s now The GEO Group — and its government contracts, handled out of Boca Raton/Highland Beach operations, according to the Sludge investigation “Who is Making Money from ICE in Your State,” amount to $48,224,145.

That’s a lot of digits at stake — and, judging by donation records, GEO knows how to grease the pockets of the state’s politicians.

Immigration detention is big business for them – and, under President Donald Trump, profits are up. That GEO was bought by a Danish company and has subsidiaries abroad, when in the United States it traffics in the fate of people fleeing strife and crossing borders, is beyond ironic.

But in the United States white, wealthy immigrants aren’t a problem.


Florida will even give you tax subsidies to set up shop.

While many Democratic candidates, put off by charges of abuses and violence at GEO facilities, turn down GEO’s generous donations, the Republicans are thrilled to take them.

Before the legislative session began, Florida lawmakers received record contributions.

GEO donated $25,000 to Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, chairman of the Judiciary Committee – without whom the sanctuary bill would not have gotten off the ground. On the Senate side, they gave $15,000 to budget chief Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island.

While DeSantis was running for governor in 2018, GEO and its chairman wrote out a check to his political action committee for a total of $100,000. They also were faithful contributors when he was a congressman.

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So while in South Florida DeSantis was cozying up to Venezuelans telling them that they’re welcome, everywhere else he was campaigning hard on the anti-sanctuary-city legislation that puts them in jeopardy and that he is about to sign. And there was no argument that could persuade him off that train, perfectly on track for a former congressman known as Trump’s bellhop in Congress.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Chris O'Meara AP

Follow the money and now we understand why it didn’t matter to Republican lawmakers that there were no sanctuary cities in Florida and that the number of undocumented are shrinking, according to the respected Pew Research Center.

Every undocumented immigrant that local police officers hold for ICE translates into big bucks for GEO, which runs detention centers all across the country, and charges the federal government more than the cost of a luxury hotel for housing them.

Every undocumented immigrant reported to the hotline this legislation sets up for those purposes — encouraging Floridians to become chivatos, informers, like the Cuban regime demands — is like a cash register ringing.

The violations of civil rights not withstanding, it’s a great return on investment for the nearly $1 million GEO and its executives donated to political campaigns in 2018 — 87 percent of that to Republicans, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks influence and lobbying.

What’s happening in Florida is a stellar example of pay-to-play in the playground of America’s eroding democracy.

Seen in this light, the GOP move to turn Florida into a police state makes sense.

They’ve got to feed the prison pipeline that funds the political careers of their candidates.

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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.”