GOP-controlled Legislature passes tough anti-immigration measure

By: - May 2, 2019 8:16 pm

Florida Immigrant Coalition photo

Following a campaign demand by Governor Ron DeSantis, the Republican controlled state Legislature Thursday passed a Trump-style measure to crack down on Florida’s undocumented immigrants.

The legislation – on its way to DeSantis for signature – requires that local law enforcement and state and local government agencies cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities to identify undocumented immigrants.

Immigration rights advocates across Florida spoke out against it, protesting at the state Capitol and in several cities. The vote came after hours of emotional debate that had lawmakers describing their own family origins and arguing over racism, privilege, and what America stands for.

The bill sponsor, state Sen. Joe Gruters from Sarasota, is chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and was co-chair for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida in 2016.

The measure takes aim at local officials. It gives DeSantis the authority to remove local officials from office if they espouse so-called “sanctuary” policies – meaning they don’t turn people over to immigration authorities. There are no such sanctuary cities or counties in Florida.

The tough measure also allows Florida’s Attorney General to bring civil actions against local governments that don’t comply. An earlier version (voted down) would have fined local governments up to $5,000 a day for having “sanctuary” policies.

The Florida House voted 68-45 to approve the measure (SB 168) early Thursday evening. It came a few hours after the state Senate voted 22-18 on its version. In the Senate, Anitere Flores from Miami the lone Republican to oppose it.

DeSantis quickly issued a statement praising his fellow Republicans in the Legislature.

“Earlier this year,” he said, “I asked the Florida Legislature to present me with a bill this session that upholds the rule of law and addresses sanctuary cities and counties in Florida. We are a stronger state when we protect our residents, foster safe communities and respect the work of law enforcement at every level.”

“Local law enforcement agencies can and should work with the federal government to ensure that accountability and justice are one in our state.”

The Florida Democratic Party fought hard to kill the legislation, and condemned the Legislature after the vote.

“Republicans in the Legislature have placed Florida at the top of the list of states that attempt to villainize immigrant communities, said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. “Our state was once a place that welcomed immigrants looking for a better future, but now it would become the Florida GOP deportation and family separation machine. Not only does SB 168 stoke anti-immigrant hatred, it makes no exception for Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans fleeing authoritarian regimes.”

The bill prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to warn immigrants last month against traveling to Florida.

In anticipation of their final crack at improving a bill that they strongly opposed, Senate Democrats filed nearly 50 amendments before the vote on Thursday, many of them produced by state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez from Miami-Dade County.

Most of the amendments would have exempted other government agencies from having to cooperate with federal authorities. After more than a dozen amendments had been introduced and summarily rejected by the majority GOP-controlled chamber, Sen Rob Bradley, a Republican from Fleming Island, called the process “silly,” adding that none of the amendments were going to pass in the Republican-controlled chamber, and the Democrats should move on.

“This is not a game,” Rodriguez said in responding back to Bradley, saying that real people’s lives were at stake once the bill becomes law.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, a Democrat from Jacksonville, argued that while the Democrats should not belabor speaking about the amendments, they should be allowed to offer them. Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano from Manatee County agreed.

Former Governor Jeb Bush criticized the immigration bill this week, telling POLITICO Florida that “this is one of those political issues where it’s designed to make a point rather than to solve a problem. I’m not sure we have this problem.”

“The governor’s opinions are his and he has every right to them,” responded House Speaker Jose Oliva. “The House has their opinions and we have our right to them.”

DeSantis spoke repeatedly in support of anti-sanctuary cities policy during his campaign last year against Adam Putnam in the Republican primary last summer, and again against Democrat Andrew Gillum in the fall.

Galvano said this week that DeSantis has been “very engaged” in the issue during the legislative session. The governor is expected to quickly sign the measure, and it will go into effect July 1.

“The fight isn’t over,” vowed Rep. Evan Jenne, a Democrat from Broward County.“It’s going to continue in the courts.”



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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.