State Politics

Florida GOP lawmakers push immigration proposals

TALLAHASSEE -- Decrying a federal government that "refuses to enforce our immigration laws," a group of state lawmakers Tuesday unrolled a series of bills aimed at stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants to Florida.

Here's what they propose:

-- Prohibit so-called "sanctuary cities," local governments that slow down or opt not to carry out orders from federal immigration officials to detain or deport suspected undocumented immigrants. State Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said he believes Miami-Dade County to have a sanctuary policy. The legislation (HB 675) allows the attorney general to sue public officials and local governments that enact sanctuary policies, possibly fining them up to $5,000 per day.

-- Ramp up criminal penalties against undocumented immigrants. A bill (HB 9, SB 118) would make it a first-degree felony -- punishable by up to 30 years in state prison -- for someone who has been ordered deported to be in the state of Florida. Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, said that he intends to change the legislation moving forward, however, to only target violent criminals who are undocumented immigrants. They would face harsher penalties for any crime they commit, and they would face a first-degree felony if they return to Florida.

-- Change how welfare benefits are calculated for families that include an undocumented immigrant. Legislation (SB 750, HB 563) would count the entire salary -- rather than just a part of it -- of a low-income undocumented immigrant against his or her family's benefits.

"All these bills we shouldn't be doing," said Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach. "We have other things to worry about or we should be worried about: health care or education, but because we have that federal government that isn't doing what they should do, we have to act."

The legislation is being sponsored by a collection of Republican representatives and senators who say they will together push through three bills: Bean, Metz, Hutson, and Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami.

Because immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, state lawmakers say there isn't much they can do.

"I love the idea of a wall," Bean said. "A wall would be a good start."

But until there is greater enforcement on the border, they said, their legislation will allow Florida to take action against undocumented immigrants and state and local programs that are friendly toward them.

The enhanced criminal penalties bill has its first hearing Wednesday in a House committee.