Republican state lawmakers are taking aim at Florida’s so-called sanctuary cities. A measure requiring local governments to comply with federal immigration agencies passed its first committee Wednesday.
Most Americans familiar with sanctuary cities became acquainted with the policy after Kathryn Steinle’s murder in San Francisco last July. Local authorities follow a policy of refusing to comply with federal immigration officials’ detention requests. Steinle’s murderer was in custody shortly before the crime, but local officials released him.
Now, Rep. Larry Metz (R-Yalaha) wants to block Florida municipalities from implementing similar policies.
“That should never happen anywhere,” Metz says of Steinle’s murder, “and the intent of this bill to make sure it never happens in the state of Florida.”
“So we have those enforcement mechanisms,” he goes on, “and we provide for a civil cause of action for anybody who is harmed by the implementation of a sanctuary policy such as a personal injury or a death like in the case of the tragic loss of Kate Steinle.”
But he’s facing significant community pushback. Dozens of people from across the state came to speak out against his bill.
Tiffany Thompson is a veteran who opposes the measure.
“Not only did I join for citizens,” she says, “I joined for my community, and this is my community sitting right here. So, to have them removed, to have them misplaced, and to have them mistreated—to be called an alien, or an illegal immigrant—they are humans, they are people and they are my neighbors.”
Local officials say the stakes are high for their balance sheets, too. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Cava says the bill would impose major costs on her law enforcement agencies.
“Since 2013, it has been the policy of our board to not honor these detainers,” Cava says. “It is saving our county $1 million per year, and it is an unfunded mandate.”
But most attendees don’t speak English. Gabriel Garcia Vera translated for many speakers, including Sergio Maldonado.
“I’m from Guatemala.” Maldonado says. “I’ve been in this country 17 years. I left at age 15 leaving my family. I come fleeing violence and poverty and that’s why I’m in this country.”
But halfway through the meeting Garcia Vera broke down. Another activist had to help out translating testimony.
Panel members questioned the wisdom of opening up law enforcement agencies to civil cases. Here’s Miami Democratic Representative Cynthia Stafford
“Law enforcement will now be open to punitive measures if they fail to report—that’s not fair.” Rep. Cynthia Stafford (D-Miami) says. “People will be afraid to deal with the police: crime victims, domestic violence victims, human trafficking victims, witnesses to a crime, even reporting a crime.”
Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven) raised similar concerns, but voted in favor the bill.
“I have problems with different parts of the bill,” Wood says. “The impact on our law enforcement communities, the impact on local government—absolutely those are very valid concerns. But we do need to have this conversation.”
In the end, the panel approved Metz’s bill. It faces two more committees—one of which Metz chairs.