Senators Debate Legislation Banning Sanctuary Cities

Apr 26, 2019

Florida Senators have just a few nights left working at the Capitol this session. Some lawmakers are hoping that's enough time to work out differences on legislation banning local sanctuary city policies.
Credit Erich Martin

A controversial bill that bans local governments from adopting or practicing sanctuary city policies is moving forward, but it comes with some new amendments.

The Senate amended its sanctuary city legislation to include a carve out for state prosecutors and the Department of Children and families. Miami Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez says those exemptions are important for protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable people. He gives the example of a recent incident.

“A Florida youth pastor is accused of forcing a teenage girl to have sex from August 2016 to February 2017. The reason is mention this is because part of what was reported is that this Florida youth pastor used threats to call ICE, not just on her, but on her family in order to perpetrate these heinous acts,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez says people shouldn’t be able to use the threat of calling Immigration and Customers Enforcement to victimize people. That’s why he says he’s glad lawmakers created the exemption for DCF. But he says legislation moving through the Senate still opens the door for people to be hurt and taken advantage of just because of the message he says it sends. That’s a concern mirrored by Fort Lauderdale Democratic Senator Perry Thurston.

“This legislation, you’re going to see more of that. You’re putting a target on these individuals from people who don’t mean them no good. Simply because they’re going to be afraid,” Thurston says.

During a discussion on the Senate floor Democrats gave examples of people who were afraid to report criminal activity or afraid to seek help when they needed it because they thought drawing attention to themselves could mean they would be deported.

Longwood Republican Senator David Simmons says he feels deeply for the people who feel they’ve been treated unfairly. But he says the state is facing an unsustainable problem and something needs to be done.

“This right here is the body that needs to have the debate on how to solve this problem, because when you have 800,000 individuals in this state alone who are undocumented, then if the federal government is not going to solve that problem then we need to take the steps to solve that problem and one of those is this,” Simmons says.

Simmons says the bill under consideration won’t hurt good people who may have overstayed their visa but are doing their best to take their families. Instead, he says it focuses specifically on people who are in jail or arrested for committing a crime— “the worst of the worst” as bill sponsor, Sarasota Republican Senator Joe Gruters says. But Miami Democratic Senator Annette Taddeo takes issue with that statement, because she says somebody can be arrested for the simplest thing.

“The bill sponsor confirmed that the bill applies to nonviolent offenders. Because I specifically asked about what would happen if you have a broken tail light of if you were jay walking. I’ve had a broken tail light. I’ve been stopped. I don’t think I’ve a criminal,” Tadeo says.

But Gruters says an interaction with law enforcement doesn’t automatically mean a person will be detained for ice—he says just 15 percent of undocumented immigrants who are arrested have active detainer requests. Meanwhile, Bradenton Republican Senator Tom Lee says he’s genuinely confused.

“I come down here on the floor and more so than ever I feel like I’m flipping the channel on the television set between MSNBC and Fox News. And I hear two different worlds talk about the same day in American history and I wonder if they were on the same planet,” Lee says.

Lee says if the goal really is going after the worst of the worst as Gruters say, then he hopes members of the Florida House are paying attention.

“Because they’re going to get this back and we have a little over a week left and that’s plenty of time for them to work with the sponsor to deal with any infirmities that exist in this bill and to clear up any confusion that may exist because I’m seeing this more and more in the politics of our society where people come here detached from the reality of what is in the legislation,” Lee says.

The bill passed the Senate 22 to 18. The issue will head back to the House because of the amendments put Senators put on their measure.