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Senate Derails Sanctuary Policy Ban But Debate Continues

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The Florida Senate stalled a plan to ban sanctuary cities this week. But the debate around immigration enforcement is alive and well in the statehouse.

For years, Florida lawmakers have been trying to ban sanctuary policies in the state. The measure carried by Republican Representative Larry Metz would force law enforcement to fully comply with federal immigration requests to hold suspects and share information. Those requests are currently optional.

The bill has never seen any movement in the Senate until this week. Senator Aaron Bean (R-Jacksonville) presented the sanctuary policy ban to the Judiciary committee this week. 

“Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for putting 308 on the agenda. So many things to choose from, you’ve chosen 308,” Bean said.

The exchange was pretty short-lived.

“I’ve spoken to many of you and I have determined that the language presented to you today does not yet meet the concerns of the committee. So I look forward to a continued cooperation with you as we work to get this language right,” Bean said.

The Committee temporarily postponed the bill, signaling it didn’t have the votes to pass. It could resurface, but Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez (D - Miami) is betting it won’t.

"When I heard Kate Steinle's story, I thought about my own daughter Kate, and how this could have happened to any family anywhere." - House Speaker Richard Corcoran

“I think it’s because of who we are here in Florida, many of my colleagues here in Florida just sort of don’t, colleagues in the Senate, irrespective of their party, understand that this bill has no place in Florida,” Rodriguez said.

Even with resistance in the Senate, the debate about sanctuary cities and undocumented immigrants shows no signs of slowing down. The full House approved the bill the first week of session, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran hasn’t let up since. He released this campaign-style ad this week.

“A young woman, gunned down by an illegal immigrant who should’ve been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city," Corcoran narrates the ad. "I’m Richard Corcoran. When I heard Kate Steinle’s story, I thought about my own daughter Kate, and how this could have happened to any family anywhere.”


The ad depicts a young woman walking down the sidewalk in a suburban neighborhood. Then a hooded man pulls out a gun and shoots the woman point-blank. This is meant to be a reenactment of the death of Kate Steinle, who was shot by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco in 2015. Politicians, including President Donald Trump, have turned her into something of a martyr for this issue. But in November, a jury found the shooting was accidental and acquitted the man of all murder charges. They determined he had picked up a gun that went off, sending a bullet ricocheting some 78 feet before hitting Steinle.

That is a much different picture than what Speaker Corcoran paints. But Corcoran, who is widely expected to run for governor, told reporters Wednesday he stands by his ad.

“Was there an illegal immigrant who, given sanctuary policies, was allowed to stay in our country and as a result did a young lady get killed? Yes. Yes. And that’s what I’ve said…that’s what the ad says," Corcoran said. "I’ll stand by it 10 out of 10 times. I’ll do everything I can with every power I can to protect the citizens of this state.”

But Representative Sean Shaw (D - Tampa) calls the ad despicable. He’s running to be the state’s next attorney general and says undocumented immigrants are not a threat.

"We all know what Speaker Corcoran's ad was. That's race-baiting. That is driving up the base... I thought it was despicable." - Representative Sean Shaw (D-Tampa)

“I mean any data shows you that undocumented citizens create crimes at a far less rate than those who are documented," Shaw said. "We all know what those statements meant. We all know what Speaker Corcoran’s ad was. That’s race-baiting. That is driving up the base. And that’s how they want to run their race, I’m not a Republican, that’s fine. But I thought it was despicable and that’s not appropriate.”

A Politifact analysis shows there’s no evidence undocumented immigrants commit more crimes than any other residents. And a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds immigrants commit crimes at significantly lower rates than the general public. In the meantime, Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith (D - Winter Park) says Florida’s immigrant community is exposed to what he calls bigotry.

“The hostility towards immigrants, towards others who are coming to this country, does not end with undocumented immigrants. It also continues to Puerto Ricans who are American citizens, who are at the receiving end of this bigotry and hostility that is being stirred up by irresponsible leaders,” Smith said.

As of the writing of this story, it’s not clear if the Senate bill will get another chance at a hearing. But in an election year with a slate of state lawmakers gunning for higher office, it’s unlikely this debate will die down.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.