Florida wants to turn state employees into government spies

Florida lawmakers will consider a bill to require all state workers to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
Florida lawmakers will consider a bill to require all state workers to cooperate with federal immigration officials. floridaimmigrant.org

The Florida Legislature soon will debate House Bill 9, draconian “show me your papers” legislation derived straight from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant playbook. While proponents rely on fear-mongering about immigrants and crime to make the case for HB 9, the reality is that this approach will harm public safety, straitjacket effective policing and trample on the civil rights of all Floridians

One in five Florida residents is an immigrant, and almost one in eight Floridians is a U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent. Our state can do better than embrace unconstitutional legislation that will scapegoat immigrants and exacerbate the divide between law enforcement and the communities they are sworn to protect.

HB 9 would compel all Florida government employees — including elected officials, police officers,and even public college and university staff — to serve as unpaid agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by requiring them to provide maximum support for the enforcement of federal immigration law, regardless of their actual job responsibilities. If these employees failed to comply with this oppressive requirement, they would face fines up to $5,000 a day and possible suspension or removal from office. These provisions alone would turn our state and local governments on their heads by subordinating normal government functions to the Trump immigration agenda.

Under HB 9, local police departments would not only be diverted from their core responsibilities; their work to keep communities safe and crime-free would be directly undermined. The bill would require local police to become de facto immigration agents. But when police are believed to be working with federal immigration officials, immigrant witnesses and victims are less likely to report crimes and helpful intelligence, whether or not they themselves have legal status, for fear that they or their family members will be questioned, detained or deported.

For this reason, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, several state attorneys general and law enforcement leaders from across the country have adopted positions or policies opposing local law enforcement’s entanglement with DHS. HB 9 would force police officers across the state to attempt to fight crime in immigrant communities with one hand tied behind their backs.

Finally, the bill would expose cities and counties in Florida to costly litigation for racial profiling and Fourth Amendment violations — and taxpayers would bear the costs. For example, the bill requires law enforcement to jail a person without a judicial warrant at ICE’s request (but at Florida’s expense) for up to 48 hours beyond the time that person would normally be released — even if the person has proof of U.S. citizenship. In recent years, jurisdictions in California, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington have been forced to pay tens of thousands in damages in detainer-related litigation. Let’s not add Florida to that list.

In 2010, Arizona passed its infamous “show me your papers” law, and it resulted in nationwide boycotts and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state, not to mention more than two years spent trying to defend the law in court. Why would Florida want to repeat Arizona’s mistake?

HB 9 is an attempt to remake Florida in the Trump administration’s vision. Rather than a serious public safety measure, it is a blatantly anti-immigrant bill that seeks to facilitate the detention and deportation of as many immigrants as possible, no matter the costs in broken families, trampled civil liberties and balanced state and local budgets. Lawmakers should reject HB 9 and refocus their energies on the real challenges that face our communities.

Amien Kacou is an ACLU of Florida staff attorney specializing in the rights of immigrants.