Democratic lawmakers are taking a stand against legislation to crack down on sanctuary cities with a counterproposal banning local governments from detaining undocumented immigrants in the Sunshine State.
The bill would essentially keep Florida’s “sanctuary cities” intact, aiming to build upon the work of 29 counties and law enforcement agencies which protect undocumented immigrants from being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Dubbed the “Florida Trust Act,” HB 1407, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Smith, D-Orlando, would restrict state and local government agencies from investigating, arresting, holding or detaining people for immigration authority without a court order from federal immigration authorities.
It’s a sad state of affairs in Florida, Smith said, since current laws create a culture of fear causing immigrants to fail to come forward to report crimes and suspicious activities because they’re afraid of being deported.
HB 1407 aims to instill trust in sanctuary communities, Smith explained.
“This important legislation strengthens those critical local relationships and creates trust to keep all of our communities safe,” Smith said.
The bill hits home for Florida, which was home to nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants in 2012.
Florida sanctuary cities include larger municipalities like Tampa and Miami as well as smaller cities like DeLeon Springs, Deltona, Lake Worth, and Sunrise. Sanctuary counties include Broward, Hernando, Hillsborough, Palm Beach, Pasco and Pinellas counties.
A 2014 Pew Research Center study found the Orlando-Kissimmee area alone had nearly 120,000 undocumented immigrants, ranking 19th in the country.
The bill would also provide legal counsel for Floridians should they be taken into custody legislation would require the state Attorney General to develop policies for schools to “ensure safety and accessibility” for all students, regardless of their immigration status.
Last week, a House committee voted in sharp contrast with Smith’s proposal, which would ban ban sanctuary cities in Florida.
HB 697, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yahala, would give sanctuary cities 90 days to repeal their “sanctuary policies” to comply with federal immigration law. Local governments refusing to comply with federal law would be hit with fines as high as $5,000 a day and cities and law enforcement agencies would also be barred from having laws or policies blocking communication with federal immigration agents.
Taxpayers would have to foot the bill for enforcing federal immigration policies -- with no guarantee of federal reimbursement.
Immigration activists said Smith’s bill was one they’d support during this year’s legislative session.
“Attacking immigrant and refugee families does not make our communities safer,” said the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “The contributions of immigrants to our economy and our culture are greater when given an opportunity.”
Smith recognized he was facing an uphill battle with the legislation -- but roadblocks aren’t going to stop him.
“We will be unapologetic,” Smith said. “ We will fight for our community and stand for what is right and just, AND we have a loud and clear message for Florida’s immigrant population-- We are united with you in solidarity for justice and equality.”