A bill that looks to prevent the creation of sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants in Florida makes a key committee stop Tuesday. But a coalition of House and Senate Democrats say they’ll fight “tooth and nail” to stop it from passing.
Republican Senator Joe Gruters says his bill, which also has a House companion, is about following the rule of law.
“This bill has nothing to do with immigration policy itself, it’s just making sure that local governments cooperate with federal immigration authorities and laws,” Gruters said. “And what it really comes down to is, Florida doesn’t have a definition of what a sanctuary jurisdiction is.”
Gruters says the measure puts in place that definition, and prevents local officials and law enforcement from blocking cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Cutoms Enforcement, or ICE.
“Right now, there are 29 counties that have agreements, basic operating agreements with ICE right now, to make sure this cooperation takes place. What happens in our bill specifically is – listen, if you’re an illegal alien, and you’re here, you’re obeying the laws and being a good member of the community, working hard, kids in school – you have nothing to worry about regarding this bill,” Gruters said. “This bill only comes into play if you’re in the judicial process – if you get arrested, if you get processed.”
The Sarasota Republican insists that means only people committing crimes, who represent a threat to society, will be ensnared.
“This is meant to have bad, criminal illegal aliens that are getting out of the judicial system, and making sure they are detained, if there is a detainer request, and making sure we eliminate these bad elements from our society,” Gruters said.
One native of Peru who now lives in Tallahassee studying at Florida State University disagrees on who Gruters’ bill would affect.
Nataly Chalco is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that exempts her from deportation. But her parents aren’t – and that means she fears even driving the length of the state is a risk.
“My dad works at an airport, and sometimes he works during late hours of the night. He has already stopped twice by the police and found driving without a license,” Chalco said at the state Capitol Monday. “One more stop and it could become a felony, which could lead to deportation.”
As a result, Chalco says she’s already experienced what fear of arrest and deportation can do to a family.
“The drive from South Florida up to Tallahassee is a long and dangerous one for undocumented folks – especially those who don’t have a license,” Chalco said. “So when the day came for me to go to college, I had to do it alone.”
Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith calls the federal immigration agency’s requests for local officials’ cooperation represent a violation of constitutional rights.
“These are unconstitutional documents. Not because I’ve called them so, but because court ruling after court ruling has said – over and over again – ICE detainer requests are unconstitutional documents,” Guillermo Smith said.
The Orlando Democrat says he fears Gruters’ bill would increase deportation of Venezuelans back to a home country in political and economic turmoil. He says 2018 saw a 35 percent increase in deportations of Venezuelan people.
“Senate Bill 168 will escalate mass deportations across the board – but it will also escalate the deportation of Venezualan immigrants, who may be sent back to their country to be slaughtered by the Maduro regime,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Annette Taddeo says the bill would deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes and abuse – and even driving their children to college. In her opinion, it’s all political.
“The fact is, not even one, sanctuary city in Florida. And what we are creating with this bill, unfortunately, are political terms,” Taddeo said. “A lot of parties like to get credit, and get some points.”
Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami agrees – and he says proponents of the bill are engaged in fearmongering.
“Why does this bill create the phantom of sanctuary cities? Frankly it’s to keep the issue of immigration alive – it is for political purposes,” Rodriguez said.
The measure will be heard in the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee Tuesday afternoon.