A divided Florida House has approved a bill that bans sanctuary cities for immigrants. It was met with heated debate from Democrats.
The bill would ban so-called “sanctuary cities” for immigrants in Florida counties and punish local officials who don’t cooperate with federal authorities. Municipalities that enforce such policies may be fined up to $5,000 per day.
The bill was proposed by Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Nassau) with the intention of reducing crime in Florida.
“This bill only applies to someone who has committed a crime and is in custody and law enforcement is unable to determine their status," Byrd said. "Federal immigration authorities will be contacted to determine whether or not further action needs to be taken.”
Under the bill, local governments must report the immigration status of those detained to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo-Smith (D-Orlando) argues that the bill could adversely affect undocumented people who have not committed crimes.
“There’s over 775,000 undocumented people in the state of Florida, and people have a right to be concerned," Smith said. "With such a large population those folks have become our family, our chosen family, our neighbors, so it impacts a lot of us in a very personal way.”
Byrd said there is no difference in who is subject to this, whether legal, illegal, asylum seeking immigrants or U.S. citizens. And Rep. John Cortes (D-Osceola) pointed to this provision as problematic.
"I agree with Byrd’s premises [sic] of locking up immigrants who are criminals," Cortes said. "I agree with that. Let’s lock them up. I have no problems with that. But don’t go putting everyone in one category saying that everyone’s a criminal. I have a problem with that.”
Rep. Susan Valdes (D-Hillsborough) cited the recent influx of immigrants from Venezuela seeking asylum as a result of the recent political turmoil.
“Let’s think about our Venezuelan brothers and sisters that are fleeing the heartache and the horrible things happening in Venezuela," Valdes said. "And yet this bill will potentially hurt some of those very same people that we’re trying to help.”
Other Democrats argued that the Florida government should not be doing the job of the federal government at the local level.
“Being overzealous has not worked," said Rep. Richard Stark (D-Broward). "What needs to work on the top level is for our U.S. Congress and Senate to come together and finally come up with some type of palatable immigration reform on the federal level. This is where immigration policy works. That’s where it’s supposed to be done.”
Rep. Thad Altman argued that the bill was intended to address crime in Florida, not hunt down undocumented immigrants.
“This bill is not anti-immigration," Altman (R-Melbourne) said. "This bill is about immigrants that are here illegally and also have even violated the laws of our land. And anytime we allow lawlessness, were doing an injustice to those who have come to this country through the proper legal process.”
Rep. Randy Fine (R-Brevard) said the policy will enforce the process of becoming a documented immigrant. He cited his aide, a legal Russian immigrant.
“If any of you have ever called my office to speak to my aide, you know she’s Russian. I jokingly say I keep my spy right in the office," Fine said.
"We can’t just say 'no borders.'" he continued. "We have to have a country, we have to regulate it. We have to remember that the folks like Anna who followed the rules, who played by the rules, that is who we need to cherish and that is who we need to recognize.”
The bill passed nearly on party lines, with Republicans Vance Aloupis (R-Miami-Dade) and Rene Plasencia (R-Orange) joining Democrats in opposition. A Senate version is set to be heard Thursday. The measure is a priority of Florida Republican governor Ron DeSantis.