PolitiFact Florida Looks Into Undocumented Immigrant's Rights

Apr 7, 2017

Would a bill that would penalize Florida cities and counties for offering sanctuary cities be the toughest in the nation? And do undocumented immigrants have Constitutional rights? WUSF's Steve Newborn poses these questions to Josh Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

The issue of immigration isn't going away, despite President Trump's stalled plans to build a wall at the Mexican border and register people coming in from some Muslim-majority countries.  Several Republicans in Florida are echoing Trump's call to end "sanctuary cities," that protect people who live in the country illegally.

A bill introduced by Orlando-area Representative Larry Metz would compel local goverments to support enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties. But Fellow Orlando Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat, doesn't like that. He says if the bill passes, "It will be the only law of its kind in the nation."

So is Florida considering one-of-a-kind legislation for sanctuary cities?

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

A major component of Metz’s HB 697 requires state and local entities, as well as law enforcement agencies to comply with the enforcement of federal immigration law 90 days after the law goes into effect.

If they don’t? Cities and counties with those policies would face penalties that include:

• a five-year suspension on receiving non-federal grant money from state and local entities that don’t honor immigration enforcement;

• The threat of automatic suspension and removal from office for elected state officials accused of violating sanctuary prohibition policy;

• A prohibition of public funds to reimburse or defend a public official who is accused of violating a sanctuary prohibition policy; and

• civil fines if detainers are not honored starting Oct. 1.

Smith said his research shows no other law in the United States goes that far.

Smith found that Alabama, Georgia, Utah and North Carolina have laws that require entities to honor all ICE detainer and information requests, but still don’t go as far as HB 697.

For example, Alabama law restricts funds, grants, or appropriations until a violation has ceased, but doesn’t have a provision to have a civil cause of action against an official if a person is injured by an undocumented immigrant.

Georgia law authorizes local officials to cooperate with federal immigration officials, but doesn’t require it.

Utah restricts sanctuary policies, but does not prescribe penalties.

And North Carolina prohibits sanctuary cities, but there’s no enforcement mechanism.

In addition, Indiana has a law that prohibited local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, but the penalties are lacking.

It can be hard to say for certain if Smith is right, but national immigration experts agree with Smith’s point.

Our ruling

Several states have come up with bills targeting so-called sanctuary cities. Among them, HB 697 in its current form is indeed unique in terms of the severity of the prohibitions and penalties against state and local entities that choose not to comply with federal immigration detainer requests. The Texas Legislature appears to have the next-closest version of this legislation. 

We rate this statement Mostly True.

Continuing with our immigration theme,  the question arises: Do Immigrants in the country illegally have Constitutional rights?

HB 83 would increase penalties for certain violent offenses -- including sexual battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, murder, and the use of a destructive device such as a bomb -- if the defendant was in the country illegally. The bill still has several hurdles before it reaches Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, argued at a March 27 House subcommittee hearing that the courts will ultimately have to rule on whether the legislation is constitutional.

Based on some court decisions, Eagle said it is "unclear if non-citizens can enjoy the same constitutional rights as citizens" although he said that everyone is entitled to constitutional protections for due process.

Francesca Menes, director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, disagreed with Eagle.

"As an undocumented immigrant, you do have constitutional rights here in the United States," she said, "and that has been said over and over in the courts, that they do have constitutional rights."

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

There have been several court decisions dating back more than a century that outline the rights of undocumented immigrants.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Zadvydas vs. Davis (2001) that "once an alien enters the country, the legal circumstance changes, for the due process clause applies to all persons within the United States."

In a Texas case, Plyler vs. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that non-citizen children must get a free K-12 education.

But undocumented immigrants don’t share all of the rights held by citizens -- for example, they can’t vote in state and national elections.

And Fordham law professor Jennifer Gordon said that some undocumented immigrants get almost no due process in removal proceedings.

In 1996, Congress created expedited removal for undocumented immigrants without a hearing. Initially it only applied at the U.S. border. Then it was expanded to within 100 miles of a border for undocumented immigrants who had been in the country less than 14 days.

President Donald Trump announced in January that his administration will apply the program anywhere in the United States to undocumented immigrants present less than two years.

"In the past, the government has largely prevailed when such programs have been challenged," Gordon said. "However, the Trump administration is proposing to expand some of these programs to include many more undocumented immigrants; it remains to be seen if the expansion will be upheld."

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by June on whether undocumented immigrants in custody for deportation proceedings have a bond right to a hearing if their cases haven’t been dealt with in a timely manner. The ACLU filed the case on behalf of immigrants detained for more than six months.

While defendants in criminal proceedings have a Sixth Amendment right to a government-appointed attorney if they are poor, that right doesn’t extend to immigration court, where the violations are considered civil and not criminal, said Cornell law professor Stephen W. Yale-Loehr.

"Yes, immigrants do have constitutional rights, but those rights are not equal to U.S. citizens," he said. "They have due process rights, but when it comes to immigration court proceedings, those rights are often watered down by courts."

Our ruling

Undocumented immigrants have many constitutional rights such as freedom of speech and religion. But they don’t share all the constitutional rights of citizens.

For example, some undocumented immigrants in removal proceedings have not gotten due process in court, and they don’t have a right to a government-paid lawyer in immigration court.

We rate this claim Mostly True.