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Legislation Cracking Down on Florida Sanctuary Cities Passes House Committee

Florida Memory

Legislation banning sanctuary city policies is moving through Florida House committees. The proposal requires cities fully cooperate with federal immigration officers or face penalties.

Despite a large public opposition to Republican Rep. Larry Metz’s sanctuary cities legislation, it passed its first hurdle Monday. He and Republican Senator Aaron Bean are pushing a state and local government crack down on illegal immigrants. Metz’s legislation would force any “sanctuary city” in Florida to remove all formal or informal policies shielding undocumented immigrants from federal custody.

Credit Florida Memory / https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/254907

Democratic Rep. John Cortes said the legislation will bankrupt cities and counties.

“Cause there’s going to be a lot of cases," he said. "I talk about this because I have 15 years experience working in these jails where a lot of people who have documentation are still locked up for three or four days.”

Many of U.S. cities have policies that may shield undocumented immigrants because they lack of manpower and money to arrest and hold them. Local law enforcement officers have many job duties besides determining people’s immigration status. It also costs counties money to keep someone in jail while awaiting officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE. Miami-Dade County commissioners say they paid about $1 million in 2011 and about $668,000 in 2012. The proposal now before lawmakers allows local agencies to bill the detainee for the costs as well as petition the federal government for reimbursement.

But federal courts have ruled that local law enforcement agencies aren’t required to cooperate with ICE officers. Law enforcement agencies can also face civil rights lawsuits for voluntarily detaining someone without probable cause. Some House members say the legislation means racially profiling Floridians.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate said he questions whether the legislation itself is constitutional. He said he doesn’t want to force the city’s police officers to question residents about their immigration status.

“Are they now requesting that we become immigrations and border control," he asked. "Our hands are already full making sure we enforce the law as it exists for this community.”

The legislation fines local governments that don’t comply with immigration officers between $1,000 to $5,000 a day. It requires local officials to report violations, but exempts employees of school districts and educational records. The proposal leaves local officials open to being sued if a Florida resident is injured by an undocumented immigrant because of a sanctuary policy.

“Well, the most egregious example of what we’re trying to prevent with this particular provision of the bill is the Kate Steinle murder in san Francisco, California a year and a half ago where the illegal alien was in custody, but because of a sanctuary policy was released from custody," Metz said.

Metz said local governments, including Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Palm Beach and Broward counties, also refuse to share identifying information of suspected undocumented immigrants. He said the people who don’t report these kinds of violations may be kicked out of public office.

Edward Labrador, a Broward County official said the bill analysis is wrong. Broward has no formal or informal sanctuary policies. He says police officers in that community have to have probable cause.

“That’s based upon interpretations by our federal courts, the interpretations of our laws, the interpretations of our Constitution, of our civil liberties," he said. "The laws shouldn’t peg you as a sanctuary jurisdiction.”

Under the proposal, complaints would go to the Attorney General or state attorney who could bring the local government into court over the violation.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition said some U.S. citizens have actually been deported through ICE detainers.

Metz said he doesn’t want law enforcement to racially profile people. But he says the state needs to encourage legal immigration and discourage the illegal kind. He also said sheriffs don’t need probable cause to detain someone they reasonably believe is here illegally.

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Sarah Mueller is the first recipient of the WFSU Media Capitol Reporting Fellowship. She’ll be covering the 2017 Florida legislative session and recently earned her master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield. Sarah was part of the Illinois Statehouse press corps as an intern for NPR Illinois in 2016. When not working, she enjoys playing her yellow lab, watching documentaries and reading memoirs.
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