SB 168 insults Florida’s history as a state that welcomes immigrants

Senate Bill 168 in the Florida Senate would mandate that local police forces enforce federal immigration law.
Senate Bill 168 in the Florida Senate would mandate that local police forces enforce federal immigration law. Department of Homeland Security

This country provided me a lifetime of experiences that have only reaffirmed why I am proud to be an American. Growing up in New York City, I witnessed at a young age, the pursuit of the American Dream. America is a place where many of my neighbors fled to escape an oppressive past. It is a place for hardworking individuals to chase their dreams. It was not until I served in the Marine Corps, though, that I fully understood what makes America truly great.

The Marine Corps taught me, and exemplified, that America stands up for the oppressed. We are the guiding light for freedom lovers across the globe to look toward in times of despair. Above all, we defend the defenseless. I carried these values with me as I continued my career of service as a member of law enforcement. It was in this job that I kept my neighbors safe, protecting back at home all we hold dear. I carried with me to the Florida House and subsequently to the Senate these same sacred values.

Not everyone, though, shares these same ideas. Lately, there have been attempts to turn back the clock and disregard what generations of Americans have fought to protect. We are still a beacon of hope and still a nation that since its founding has welcomed immigrants.

Therefore, I oppose Senate Bill 168 in the Florida Legislature.

SB 168 is a dangerous family-separation bill that marginalizes our immigrant neighbors. It does so at the expense of local law enforcement. It is an unfunded mandate that fails to adequately address the costs of detainment and hands over the tasks of federal authorities to local police officers. As a former detective and officer myself, I find this puzzling.

Protecting our streets is not an easy task, and it requires an extensive amount of training and trust in all communities. Law enforcement needs victims and witnesses, regardless of their status, to report crimes. SB 168 would require a new reporting and archiving process that would deter many people from coming forward. It also requires university and college police to comply with ICE, when they should be keeping students safe. Burdening local officials to comply with ICE detainer requests is time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary. ICE already has a strong presence in the state and carries out its mission when called upon.

My years on the force taught me that trust between law enforcement and the community is vital. Without it, communities become less safe and secure. Safe societies rely on members of the community coming forward with information or request for help. By targeting vulnerable populations, we take away their incentives to seek help or provide crucial information. This bill plays right into criminals’ hands. If it were to pass, these new laws can provide tools that further manipulate victims. Immigrants will think twice before contacting police or seeking emergency medical attention. The fear of deportation will silence them; allowing criminals to get away with acts of evil.

By thrusting more responsibilities on local police officers, SB 168 also burdens the brave men and women working hard to keep us all safer. They already work full weeks, plus overtime. More time spent on the job is more time away from loved ones, missing holidays, sporting events and dance recitals. We are in debt to those who serve our country, domestically and abroad. This is no way to show gratitude for their risk and sacrifice.

Florida has exemplified what made America great since the days of its founding. We have welcomed people from across the globe who are chasing their American Dream. This bill would destroy our inclusive environment and erode public trust. Criminalizing our neighbors is not the answer. It is not compatible with the values of America and those of the Sunshine State.

I strongly urge my legislative colleagues to vote no on SB 168 and instead support my legislation, SB 1566 the “Florida Trust Act”, which is an inclusive and thoughtful attempt to continue protecting all Floridians by engendering trust and respect between law enforcement officials and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Florida Sen. Victor M. Torres, Jr. represents District 15, covering Osceola and Orange counties.