State Politics

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Bennett on Ariz. immigration law's rebuke: 'What was judge thinking?'

MANATEE — State Sen. Mike Bennett wondered “what was the judge thinking?” after hearing that a federal judge Wednesday had dealt a serious rebuke to Arizona’s tough, new immigration law.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton put most of Arizona’s crackdown on hold just hours before it was to take effect.

Bennett, a Bradenton Republican, is in the process of drafting similar legislation to be considered during the spring session of the Florida Legislature.

“You’re wondering what was the judge thinking?” Bennett said when told of news reports about the ruling. “Has she thought about reading a newspaper, or talking to people?”

But Marvin Mills, an advocate for local farm workers, said, “It sounds like this judge made a very good decision.”

Mills, who serves as secretary for the Sarasota/Manatee Farmworker Supporters, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of farm workers regardless of immigration status, opposes the Arizona law. He argued it is the U.S. government’s responsibility to set immigration policy, not individual states.

But the main reason he opposes such laws are their inhumanity, he said.

“I personally feel it’s an invitation for right-wing elements to take the law into their own hands,” he said. “That seems to be a very dangerous aspect, and reason enough to defeat it,” he said.

But in announcing plans for his bill earlier this month, Bennett said the legislation is designed to ensure immigration laws are enforced in Florida, and “to stop our government officials from turning a blind eye to illegal immigration.”

It would allow police who make a lawful stop, detention or arrest, or while they are enforcing another law, to require information regarding citizenship if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an illegal immigrant. It would also permit law enforcement agencies to take illegals into federal custody.

“Right now, at least 70 percent of the people in Florida support my idea,” Bennett said Wednesday. “I think I’ll get the law passed in some shape or form, hopefully we’ll have better luck with the federal government.”

Still, Bennett was sympathetic to some of the judge’s concerns, such as the possibility that police sweeps might inadvertently curtail liberties of those here legally.

“The concern about people getting swept up is a very valid concern,” said Bennett. “We want to make sure people are not stopped only because of the color of their hair or skin. The only one I’m concerned about is felons and high-degree misdemeanors. I’m not concerned about the traffic stop, the person who doesn’t have her seat belt on.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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