State Politics

Florida closer to ban on ‘sanctuary cities’ as Trump talks of sending migrants to them

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.

So-called sanctuary cities have been a target of President Donald Trump since the start of his presidency. He threatened to block federal funding via executive order and has now introduced a new proposal to transport undocumented immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to “sanctuary cities” across the country.

While the proposal to send immigrants to cities like San Francisco and Chicago has been rejected twice in the past six months over legal and logistical concerns, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Fox News on Sunday that Trump has asked his administration to take another look at the plan.

Trump’s stance on sanctuary cities has also become a key issue for Republicans in Florida, as twin proposals to ban the jurisdictions in Florida make their way to the chamber floors.

The bills — SB 168 and HB 527 — are being heard in committee for the last time this week, and have garnered support from Republican members, leadership and Gov. Ron DeSantis. Amid comments from the president this week, the message has ramped up ahead of a vote. At the Capitol on Wednesday, Floridians for Immigration Enforcement is hosting “angel families” whose family members were killed by immigrants. Meanwhile Democrats in the Legislature and immigrants rights groups continue to speak out.

The American Business Immigrant Coalition recently penned an open letter to leadership against the legislation — a letter backed by more than 120 leaders including Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas. Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, who has been a staunch opponent of the bill, also signed the letter.

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“This bill erodes trust between police and immigrants and thereby threatens the safety of all Floridians,” the letter states. “When immigrants are afraid to report and be witnesses of crime, we all lose. We’re asking you, as our elected leaders in Tallahassee, to stop this wrong-minded legislation and focus on solutions to real problems in our state.”

The set of bills creates rules relating to federal immigration enforcement by prohibiting “sanctuary” policies and requiring state and local law enforcement to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bills also would give whistle-blower status to officers who report citizenship violations by undocumented immigrants detained in local jails on unrelated charges.

Under the proposals, local law enforcement would be required to honor federal law enforcement’s request for an “immigration detainer,” meaning a request that another law enforcement agency detains a person based on probable cause to believe that the person is a “removable alien” under federal immigration law. The bill would essentially make the “request” a requirement.

There are no official sanctuary cities in Florida.

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Senate bill sponsor Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, said while he understands there may be issues with the legality of Trump’s request, he applauds the president for coming out with such a “bold idea.”

His bill is “similar in nature but different in scope,” but said Trump’s idea isn’t a bad one.

“Overall we have a complete failure of Washington to take care of the [immigration] situation. … You have our president doing everything he can to fix the situation by building a wall and trying to address the people at the border,” Gruters said. “It only makes sense to release them in the counties that want to protect [immigrants] anyway.”

Gruters, who also serves as the chair of the Republican Party of Florida, seems to have the support of DeSantis as well.

DeSantis, a Trump supporter from the start of his campaign, made clear his stance on sanctuary cities in his state of the state address. He told the crowd that Florida “will not be a sanctuary state” and that he “won’t tolerate sanctuary cities that actively frustrate law enforcement.”

Mike Fernandez, a billionaire healthcare magnate and prominent political booster in Miami, said Trump and the upcoming 2020 election are why this rhetoric is rearing its head in Florida, despite there not being a sanctuary city in the state.

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“It’s driven by Trump. Both parties are playing 2020 politics at the expense of children and families who all want to enjoy their rights,” he said. “This is one of those times you see profits ahead of morals in our country.”

Fernandez said he’s told the bill sponsors and other committee chairs that he and other opponents could support the bill if it only applied to felons.

“If this applies only to criminals, we can live with it,” said Fernandez, who also leads the American Business Immigrant Coalition. “But it cannot be putting someone in jeopardy of being deported for jaywalking.”

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Samantha J. Gross is a state government reporter for the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times bureau in Tallahassee, where she covers state government and politics. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.


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