Governor Ron DeSantis today signed off on a bill banning so-called “sanctuary cities” in Florida. The effort sparked controversy during this legislative session, but its backers say it’s all about following the rule of law.
“This is about the rule of law, and it’s also about public safety,” DeSantis said, flanked by Republican allies at the state and national level.
DeSantis says the new law prohibits Florida municipalities from refusing to work with federal immigration authorities.
“This bill is very simple – if you have somebody in our possession, if the sheriff has somebody in our possession who is here illegally, committing criminal offenses – it is our states policy that we work with the federal government so that those individuals can be removed from our communities,” DeSantis said.
Proponents of the measure have maintained the law would only apply to those in the country illegally who have committed crimes. Republican Senator Joe Gruters was the bill’s principle backer in the Senate.
“Listen, if you’re an illegal alien, and you’re here, you’re obeying the laws and being a good member of the community, working hard, kids in school – you have nothing to worry about regarding this bill,” Gruters said earlier this year. “This bill only comes into play if you’re in the judicial process – if you get arrested, if you get processed.”
But the bill didn’t get passed without a fight. During the signing event, Gruters recounted the dizzying number of amendments filed, many in the waning days of session.
“There was (sic) 244 amendments filed on this bill over the course of the cycle,” Gruters said. “We had to pass it twice off the Senate floor, I think three times off the House floor, which was almost impossible when you think about it.”
That opposition, and late plays to make changes to the bill, came from Democratic lawmakers like Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando. As the bill was moving through committees, he called the federal immigration agency’s requests for local officials’ cooperation a violation of constitutional rights.
“ICE Detainer requests are just that – it’s a request for cooperation with ICE. These are unconstitutional documents. Not because I’ve called them so, but because court ruling after court ruling has said – over and over again – ICE detainer requests are unconstitutional documents,” Guillermo Smith said.
Democratic Senator Annette Taddeo criticized the measure as being purely political. In March, she said the bill would deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes and abuse – and even driving their children to college.
“The fact is, not even one, sanctuary city in Florida. And what we are creating with this bill, unfortunately, are political terms,” Taddeo said. “A lot of parties like to get credit, and get some points.”
Nataly Chalco is a native of Peru and Florida State University student, who spoke at a press conference hosted by Senate Democrats on the bill in March. She disagreed with Gruters concerning who the bill would affect.
“My dad works at an airport, and sometimes he works during late hours of the night. He has already stopped twice by the police and found driving without a license,” Chalco said. “One more stop and it could become a felony, which could lead to deportation.”
DeSantis and those at the bill signing invited Kiyan and Bobby Michael to speak. Their son was killed in a car accident involving a previously-deported immigrant who was here unlawfully, in 2007.
“Brandon was killed right on the scene – the illegal got out of his car, and sat right on the curb, and watched our son take his last breaths. He did nothing to help him, he did nothing to get him help. And we had to force the state to go back to court to prove that he was behind the wheel, and no one was in the car with him,” Kiyan Michael told the crowd.
The family says the man who killed Brandon was given a two-year sentence, and then deported once again. When DeSantis promised action on state immigration policy during his State of the State address, the Michael family were his guests.
“Had our laws simply been enforced, Bobby and Kiyan might not have had to bury their son,” DeSantis said. “So let’s do the right thing by the Michael family – let’s prohibit sanctuary cities in the State of Florida.”
Hundreds reportedly showed up to watch the bill signing in Okaloosa County.