Florida House Bill Barring Sanctuary Policies Lands In Senate

May 1, 2017

Legislation banning so called sanctuary policies has passed the Florida House. But it’s unclear whether the Senate will advance the bill in the final week of session.

Credit Florida Channel

Legislation by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, suspends state funding to local governments that don’t comply with federal immigration officials. But critics said the bill raises serious constitutional concerns.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, said the measure doesn’t define what a sanctuary policy is. He added only the federal government can regulate immigration laws under the U-S Constitution.

“You are forcing locals to act as agents of the federal government," he said. "It is against the Constitution. That is what we are violating with this bill.”

Metz’s bill requires local governments to repeal any policy or custom that doesn’t report undocumented people to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE. Elected officials who don’t report illegal immigrants could lose their office.

The measure also requires law enforcement officials to detain undocumented people for up to 48 hours so ICE agents can take them into custody after they would normally be released from jail.

Francesca Menes, who is with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the legislation violates the civil rights of Floridians. The U.S. Constitution gives due process rights to people in the U.S., including people here unlawfully. That means law enforcement officers have to have probable cause and a judicial warrant to hold someone in custody.

Immigration officers send requests, called detainers, to sheriffs and jails asking them to hold someone in custody after their local criminal cases are closed. Menes said local governments have been sued for illegally detaining people, including U.S. citizens.

“With a bill like Metz’s bill, which one of the things I stressed over and over in committee meetings, is that Metz is trying to legalize something that the courts have said is not legal," she said. "You’re trying to force localities to do something that they are not required to do by the federal government, which is why it’s called a request.”

Rony Chavez Aguilar, a naturalized citizen, filed a lawsuit in late March that said he was illegally held by ICE for 18 days without access to a lawyer or a judge. Kentucky law enforcement allegedly detained him for ICE after he served a short stint in jail on drug charges. It’s illegal for immigration officials to hold U.S. citizens. But Menes says this happens frequently.

“So you just have an agent with no legal background, no legal understanding and just checking a box that says ‘Yeah, I believe there’s probable cause,’" he said. "No judge is involved in the process."

But Representative Larry Metz said his legislation makes sure local governments help federal immigration officers deport undocumented criminals.

“I am very well aware of the contributions that immigrants make to our country," he said. "But we have to maintain the fidelity of our legal immigration system and channel people into that system so we have knowledge of who’s coming here, what their background is, what their contributions will be if they’re allowed to come here.”

Similar legislation by Florida Sen. Aaron Bean has stalled in committee. The Senate could choose to take up the House legislation. But, time is running out and most state lawmakers are focused on the budget.