State Politics

Immigrant advocates lambaste ‘racist and bigoted’ proposals in Legislature

Dozens of immigrant advocate groups gathered at the Florida Capitol for a press conference on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring.
Dozens of immigrant advocate groups gathered at the Florida Capitol for a press conference on Tuesday, March 28, 2017 to oppose anti-immigrant bills lawmakers are considering this spring. kclark@miamiherald.com

Dozens of immigrant advocates, including many from South Florida, descended on the Florida Capitol on Tuesday to send a message to the Republican-led Legislature: Back off.

“We are tired of having the same conversation with our legislators, as if we — as immigrants — do not contribute to the state of Florida,” said Francesca Menes, policy and advocacy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We contribute economically to the state of Florida. Our families are here, and we are here to stay.”

Representatives from the coalition and several other immigrant advocacy groups came together at a press conference, where they were joined by dozens of supporters, including Democratic lawmakers.

“[We are] standing here, demanding that we stop all of this, because our families are sick and tired of being threatened of being separated,” Menes said.

Menes blasted President Donald Trump for being a “bully who is threatening to take away our funding.” (Trump signed executive orders earlier this year ordering the Department of Homeland Security to stop funding communities that were deemed “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants.)

Meanwhile, she and other advocates also had harsh words for conservative lawmakers in Florida, who have also sought to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

Bills moving through the Legislature include proposals to outlaw “sanctuary cities” in the state (SB 786 / HB 697) and to subject undocumented immigrants to harsher criminal penalties for severe crimes than legal residents or U.S. citizens would otherwise face.

MORE: “Lawmakers target criminal undocumented immigrants, despite constitutional questions”

Both of those pieces of legislation — but particularly the one calling for harsher penalties (SB 120 / HB 83) — have prompted questions about their constitutionality.

But conservative members of the House have pushed forward, undaunted by the criticism and even challenging the Florida Supreme Court to “tell us that we’re wrong.”

“It is very important now, in Donald Trump’s America, that we resist the racist and bigoted policies that are being put forward. ... We have to resist these unconstitutional policies,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. “We understand that the immigrant community, the immigrant population make up the economic spine of Florida and our country. Everyone that is here is here to work; they are here to make our communities better.”

MORE from PolitiFact: “Is being in the United States unlawfully a ‘crime’?”

Smith added: “I think it is important for every person to understand the facts. These are what they are: Undocumented immigrants have constitutional rights.”

Conservative lawmakers have disputed that fact during committee hearings, while also arguing that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law by being in the country illegally — even though unlawful presence in the United States is not, by itself, a crime.

“They’re not undocumented aliens. They’re not here because of a lack of document,” Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach argued Monday when HB 83 narrowly passed its second of three House committees on a 7-5, party-line vote. “They’re here because their first act in entering our country was to violate the law.”

“I think we have to ask ourselves where our loyalty is. Who do we represent?” Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, added.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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