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Sanctuary Cities Under Fire In Florida Legislature

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Communities that provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants are coming under fire in the Florida legislature.

A bill filed by Groveland Republican Representative Larry Metz would prohibit sanctuary cities in Florida. While the federal government has broad power over immigration policy, it needs the cooperation of local governments to get the job done. Local governments in California, Oregon and elsewhere have decided to take a step back from enforcement, by not cooperating with federal requests. Metz’s bill would force Florida to cooperate.

“It’s important to note that this bill is not an immigration enforcement regulatory framework. It’s simply compelling our state and local government entities to cooperate with existing federal immigration enforcement efforts,” he said.

Again and again, Metz raises the case of Katie Steinle, a woman who was killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco in 2015.

“It was the tragic murder of 32 year old woman who was with her father on a pier in the tourist area, doing nothing except enjoying the evening, when a violent vicious killer took her life because of a sanctuary policy,” he said.

The case elevated the sanctuary city debate to the national stage. But Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami says the case has no bearing on Florida’s situation.

“We’re addressing a problem that frankly does not exist in Florida, which is there is no San Francisco here in Florida,” he said.

Other lawmakers say that complying with federal requests isn’t so cut and dried. Under the bill, local law enforcement officers would have to detain immigrants for the federal government. But federal courts say these sorts of mandates may run afoul of the 10th amendment. And on top of the questionable constitutionality, local officials say taxpayers would have to pick up the tab. Jess McCarty represents Miami-Dade County, which has passed a resolution opposing Metz’s bill.

“So in a corrections system the size of Miami-Dade, you multiply that across and in some years it’s been over a million dollars in expense to our tax payers,” he said.

While opposition to the bill is mostly from Democrats, one facet of the bill ruffles feathers on both sides on the aisle. Under Metz’ plans, people injured or killed by undocumented immigrants could sue the local officials who voted for the sanctuary policies. Metz says the move would ease the suffering of families like Katie Steinle’s. But Representative Katie Edwards of Sunrise questions the measure.

“Would that have meant under your bill that the family would have had a cause of action against the board of county commissioners for having that kind of policy in effect at that time? Is that the practical effect on your bill and how do you feel that that helps to achieve the larger purpose of making sure that our federal immigration laws are upheld and enforced?” she asked.

Metz says his plans would only bring Florida up to speed on existing federal laws. And Representative Matt Hudson of Naples agrees with him.

“From my understanding, and from the way I read your bill, you’re asking people to follow the law. You’re asking people to live up to their oath office. You’re asking people to adhere to the Constitution of the United States and of Florida,” he said.

While debate raised emotions and blood pressure at the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, the bill passed. The measure will now head to the House floor.