Florida legislators should not turn police officers into agents for ICE

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Republican state lawmakers’ hatred of Big Government is only surpassed by their ardor for scapegoating immigrants in the name of public safety and economic stability.

Not only are they hypocritical, they are wrong on both counts.

After clearing raw and emotional hearings in the state Senate Rules Committee and passing 9-8, a contentious bill to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” will now get a full Senate vote. Though the legislative push for this proposal is mostly for political show, the practical realities are overreaching, intrusive and dangerous.

Twin bills — SB 168 and HB 527 — would prohibit sanctuary cities in Florida and require state and local law enforcement agencies to comply with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bills would needlessly codify arresting undocumented immigrants for deportation. Already, Florida has seen U.S. citizens mistakenly ensnared in ICE’s net.

This is overreach, usurping the authority of local law enforcement agencies. And it comes at a time when President Trump is threatening to send undocumented immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to “sanctuary cities” across the country to punish Democrats. Florida Republicans are in lockstep with the president, despite representing a state that thrives on immigrants’ presence.

These bills trample local discretion, as existed under the Obama administration, to decide whether to comply with ICE’s requests for an “immigration detainer.” That means when police arrest undocumented immigrants, holding them until the feds pick them up. In effect, these bills would turn local police officers into ICE agents. But that’s not their job. An undocumented immigrant stopped for a busted tail light would have as much to fear as one in illegal possession of a gun. This despite state and federal statistics showing that undocumented immigrants commit crime at much lower rates than native-born Americans.

Florida’s agriculture industry and the more than 47,000 commercial farms that employ immigrants to do the backbreaking work that brings food to our tables, would be hard hit by this legislation.

The House version is onerous. Local government employees or elected officials who permit sanctuary-city policies may be suspended or removed from office. The proposal also includes fines of up to $5,000 for each day that a sanctuary-city policy is in place.

The Senate proposal gives the attorney general authority to bring civil actions against municipalities that do not cooperate. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, assured the Senate panel that the proposed law would only affect illegal immigrants arrested or convicted of a crime. “This is really to capture people who have been previously deported ... people with gang activity,” he said, according to a Miami Herald story.

It’s a delusional theory. Local officers would likely never keep felons from the feds. Rather, these bills would have a chilling effect on even some legal immigrants seeking police help if they have a law-abiding, but undocumented, family member.

We commend Miami-Dade State Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who voted with Democrats against this ill-conceived effort and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, whose amendments sought to protect victims or witnesses to crime, exempt welfare workers from having to share information with ICE and mandate a judicial warrant for a detainer request. Excellent measures that Republicans rejected.

Republicans don’t seem to understand the consequences of this sinister bill — or maybe they do.