Corcoran Supports Sanctuary Policy Ban Despite Concerns About Constitutionality

Jan 5, 2018

Florida’s Speaker of the House is promising to pass a bill restricting sanctuary policies in the first week of this year’s legislative session. That’s despite arguments that the plan is unconstitutional. 

Credit jvoves/ flickr / https://www.flickr.com/photos/jvoves/

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is throwing his weight behind a plan to block sanctuary policies in Florida. He recently released this campaign-style ad in support of the ‘Rule of Law Adherence Act’. Corcoran is widely expected to run for governor this year.

“I led the fight to pass a bill to punish sanctuary cities, restrict their funds, and require law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. No more sanctuary cities, no more breaking the law, it’s time to end this policy once and for all,” Corcoran said in the ad.

Specifically, the bill would require local law enforcement to comply with federal detainer requests. So if a local sheriff has arrested someone the feds believe is undocumented, the locals would have to share information, or allow interviews, or hold an otherwise releasable person for 48 hours until the feds pick them up. Normally that would all be voluntary. It’s the third year Representative Larry Metz (R-Groveland) has sponsored the bill.

“The bill defines and prohibits sanctuary policies and requires the repeal of any existing sanctuary policy that is in effect already within 90 days. It requires state and local governmental entities and law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities,” Metz said.

But there are a few problems. Federal courts have found that detainer requests are just that, requests. Forcing local law enforcement to cooperate with the feds could be unconstitutional. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times the bill is “flat-out unlawful.”

Shalini Goel Agarwal with the Southern Poverty Law Center says the bill puts local governments in a difficult position. 

“Honoring ICE detainers exposes them to lawsuits. You would be putting them between a rock and a hard place,” Agarwal said.

If they detain otherwise releasable people without probable cause and without a warrant, they could expose themselves to lawsuits.

“A number of counties have policies requiring that to detain someone in jail, a judge must find probable cause that a person committed a crime. No detention without probable cause is a bedrock constitutional principle. This bill would trample it," Agarwal said.

And if they don’t cooperate, local governments could face backlash from the state, which could levy fines or remove officials from office. Immigration activists are concerned as well. Under the bill, victims of crimes wouldn’t have their immigration status scrutinized if they cooperate with police. But some are worried the change could break down trust in the community. Maria Ramirez says during the eleven years she was undocumented, she was scared and isolated.

“I was terrified of stepping into hospitals, colleges, law enforcement institutions. That meant no healthcare, education or justice-seeking for the sexual and domestic abuse I was victim of. It was stated that there would be exceptions for the enforcement of this law. But unfortunately I simply do not trust the system that would ensure these exceptions,” Ramirez said.

It’s not clear how many sanctuary jurisdictions there are in Florida. The phrase itself is a bit of a term of art, and the meaning can vary depending on who’s doing the talking. The Florida Association of Counties is watching the bill, but doesn't yet know how it could affect local governments.

"I don’t know how many counties (or cities) have sanctuary policies and we haven’t run a financial analysis on the bill.  For now we are closely monitoring it and will follow the direction of our membership," spokeswoman Cragin Mosteller said in a written statement.

Florida State University immigration law professor Mark Schlakman has said the effort to enforce what supporters call 'the rule of law' is misguided. He’s spoken against previous versions of the bill.

“It is absolutely unnecessary for any state to pass legislation to ensure that federal prevails, because federal law is supreme in any case,” Schlakman said in a 2017 interview.

House Bill 9 is ready to go to the floor, after just one committee stop. But the plan is still a longshot. The Senate version hasn’t been heard at all yet. And that’s consistent with how the bill fared in past years, flying through the House and dying in the Senate.