The Florida House has put a target on cities and counties that have “sanctuary” policies protecting undocumented immigrants picked up by police.
Legislation (HB 697) requiring local officials do away with those policies or risk fines and removal from office is moving fast in the chamber. The bill would require police detain people for 48 hours — at local taxpayer expense — if they receive a request to do so from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And it would let victims or their families sue elected officials if a crime is committed by an undocumented immigrant in a community where sanctuary laws are in effect.
“With porous borders and a lack of internal enforcement, if we simply say that if you can get here you can stay here and we don’t care about the legal distinctions, we’re going to have more and more people coming here illegally and fewer and fewer coming here through the legal immigration system,” bill sponsor Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said.
The House subcommittee on local, federal and veterans affairs passed his bill on a party line vote Tuesday with nine Republicans in favor, five Democrats opposed. Rep. Mike Miller, R-Winter Park, was not in the room to vote.
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The bill must still clear the House Judiciary Committee, and its Senate companion has not yet been put on the agenda for its first hearing.
Not one Republican debated in favor of the bill Tuesday, other than its sponsor, and none of the 27 members of the public and lobbyists who spoke at the meeting expressed support.
Democrats raised concerns that the bill is unconstitutional, immoral and said it was a policy indicative of “Donald Trump’s America” that targets immigrants. What’s more, they said, it advances a stereotype that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes, when studies show the opposite is true.
Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, an Army veteran and hospital executive who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 12 urged her House colleagues to vote against the bill because immigrants are “the spine of this nation.”
“I achieved the American Dream, I suppose, and if you think this story is unique and beautiful and one of achievement, I have to tell you it’s not. It’s every immigrant’s story,” she said, adding that, “I have never felt as vilified as I have now.”
But Democrats also rebuked one member of the public, Gail Marie Perry of Plantation, who told the subcommittee that “This is one step toward Nazism in the United States.”
Republicans beat down a series of amendments offered by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, to gut components of the bill.
Smith's amendments would have:
▪ Required a warrant from a judge before police have to detain someone at ICE’s request.
▪ Exempted state colleges and universities, where undocumented “DREAMers” are afforded in-state tuition, from the bill.
▪ Given witnesses and victims of crimes additional protection.
▪ Funded the detention requirements.
▪ Cut language allowing the governor to remove local officials from office if they vote against ending sanctuary policies.