Voting along party lines, the Florida House on Friday outlawed so-called sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, the day after President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.”
Trump’s vulgarity was a recurring theme in floor debate. The partisan House vote was a largely symbolic act, but the bill is a top priority of Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, a possible candidate for governor. That’s why it was voted out on only the fourth day of the 60-day session.
For the past two years, however, the Senate has refused to even hear the proposal in a committee, and it appears it will die a similar fate in the 2018 session.
In the House, every Republican who was present voted yes. Every Democrat present voted no. The House vote was 71-35, with 10 legislators not voting. Four seats are vacant in the 120-member House.
The bill (HB 9) is sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, who said it was inspired by the shooting death in 2015 of Kate Steinle in San Francisco. Steinle’s killer, an undocumented immigrant, was acquitted at trial by a jury that decided the shooting was accidental.
The measure requires local law enforcement officials to comply with federal immigration enforcement requests. Such actions have been held unconstitutional by judges.
Dismissing supposed political motivations, Metz said: “Are we really serving up red meat in an election year? The genesis of this bill has nothing to do with any of that.”
Human rights groups denounced the measure, calling it illegal.
“This bill consigns immigrants to being detained in jails in violation of the Constitution,” said Elizabeth Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “We are all safer when everyone is free from being illegally held in jail.”
During the House floor debate on the bill, Democrats said that if it became law it would encourage racial profiling, strike fear into Florida’s large and growing immigrant population, and discourage law-abiding immigrants from going to the police even when they are crime victims.
Several Democrats alluded to Trump’s language, but no one actually said the word.
“I don’t want to say it,” said Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, who delivered part of his lengthy floor speech in Creole.
However, in a news conference held earlier by nine Democratic lawmakers — including the leadership of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus — the lawmakers did not mince words. Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami, used Trump’s word within the first two minutes of the event.
“It appears that President Trump does not have an issue with immigrants,” Campbell continued. “He has an issue with immigrants of color.”
One by one, the legislators spoke in fiery terms. Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, choked back tears. Friday also marked the eighth anniversary of the disastrous Haitian earthquake, as well as the eve of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a fact the lawmakers said added insult to injury.
Failure to object to Trump’s language was akin to complicity, Jacquet said.
“Any chamber in this state, any municipal council in this state, any chamber in this country that fails to stand united, that fails to denounce what was said, we will take that as support for the disgusting, degrading and divisive words that were stated by No. 45 yesterday,” he said.
Corcoran, along with Jacquet and several other legislators, issued a joint statement Friday afternoon.
“If the remarks attributed to President Trump are accurate, they have no place in our public discourse,” the statement read. “America’s greatness is self-evident, we do not need to tear down other nations.”
After the news conference ended, several of the Democratic lawmakers walked to the office of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose staff assured them he would be issuing a statement. As of 6:30 p.m. Friday, no such statement had been released.