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Legislators Take Immigration Into Their Own Hands

James Clarke Ash

Republican backlash against federal immigration policy is reverberating in Tallahassee, with a handful of conservatives pushing get-tough proposals.

Senator Aaron Bean of Jacksonville stood Tuesday with other lawmakers in the Capitol Rotunda and summed up the frustration.

“We’re got a problem. We’ve got a problem in our country when our federal government, for whatever reason, and we can surmise whatever reason, just refuses to enforce our immigration laws.”

The legislators admit immigration policy is a federal responsibility, but they’re willing to push the boundaries of their authority.

Representative Larry Metz of Yalahaw wants to ban local governments from adopting sanctuary policies. Miami-Dade County has one. It refuses to jail suspects before they can be handed over to federal immigration agents.

“It is simply unacceptable for state and local governmental entities to adopt policies, practices, customs or procedures that are intended to thwart the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

Metz also wants government officials who approve sanctuary policies to lose their constitutional protection from lawsuits.

He says it’s a response to the murder this summer of 32-year-old San Francisco resident Kathryn Steinle. The shooter was an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had been deported five times. Steinle’s family is suing city council members for adopting sanctuary.

Senator Travis Hutson of Palm Coast is having success with a bill targeting illegal aliens who returned to Florida after being deported. If they get charged with a crime, no matter how trivial, it would be an automatic felony.

Finally, a bill by Representative Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach would make it harder for illegal aliens to get cash assistance.

“States must eliminate the economic magnets that draw people across our borders illegally.”

Karen Woodall, a veteran social services advocate, says lawmakers are offering solutions to problems that don’t exist.

“What happens when you have such a broad brush is we start having anti-immigrant fervor.”

That doesn’t seem to bother the Republican-controlled Legislature. Hutson’s bill will likely be ready for a floor vote when lawmakers convene in January.

A Miami native, former WFSU reporter Jim Ash is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience, most of it in print. He has been a member of the Florida Capital Press Corps since 1992.