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Florida House Passes 'Sanctuary Cities' Ban, While Senate Version Stalls

Elvert Barnes/ flickr

Wednesday evening the Florida House passed a bill that would prohibit sanctuary cities in the state. The bill may stall out in the Senate.

It was a war of words and strong rhetoric in the Florida House Wednesday, as members debated prohibiting sanctuary polices. Here’s Representative Dennis Baxley of Ocala, defending the proposal.

"Every time we come in this chamber we turn to that flag, and we pledge liberty and justice for all! We don’t pledge Animal Farm, that some are more equal than others, and some people need to live by the rules and the others don’t," he said.

Sanctuary cities in California and Oregon create a safe haven for undocumented immigrants by denying federal immigration requests. If the House gets its way, these policies would be banned in the state of Florida. Representative Larry Metz of Groveland is sponsoring the bill.

“So what the bill does, it prohibits sanctuary policies as you know, and it requires cooperation with federal enforcement efforts. We’re not going out there creating a new system of enforcement, we’re just cooperating with the existing system of enforcement,” he said.

The federal government has broad, undoubted power over immigration, but the feds depend on state and local cooperation to get the job done. Proponents of the bill say they’re just enforcing policies already on the books. Here’s Representative Julio Gonzalez of Venice.

“This bill is not an assault on immigrants. This bill is only forwarded to protect the very reasons why immigrants come to this country: to seek freedom, to seek the predictability that comes with knowing that ours is a nation of laws,” he said.

The bill would force local governments to cooperate with federal requests, such as immigration detainers. Critics say detaining immigrants for the feds is another burden on local law enforcement, and tax payers would have to pick up the tab. Representative Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami says the practice would cost his district $1.6 million.

“They’re not going to spend the extra tax money keeping every single person in custody for forty-eight hours more in the hopes that maybe ICE will show up,” he said.

The bill would also expose local governments to litigation, if they had sanctuary policies on the books. Victims of certain crimes committed by undocumented immigrants could sue the officials who voted for the policies. Representative Rodriguez says the bill may be a response to the national immigration debate, but it isn’t a solution.

"Members of this chamber have a lot of frustration with the federal government for what they are and are not doing. If you’re voting in favor of this bill what you’re doing is you’re 100% taking that out on local government," he said.

Others say the bill would break up families and strain relationships with local law enforcement. Hundreds of immigrants came to Tallahassee to protest this bill and others. A young woman named Catalina was among the group. She and her parents are undocumented, and she says they live in fear.

“Every day having to worry about whether they will get stopped or they will run into a checkpoint that they aren’t aware of and basically that when dropping off their children at school, it may be the last time they see their children,” she said.

The House passed the bill 80 to 38, but this could be the end of the line. The Senate version must go through Miami Republican Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. That senator is blocking other house priorities, like campus carry. The sanctuary cities bill could meet a similar fate. The Senate version has not yet had a hearing.