Florida Senate approves bill forcing localities to comply with immigration officials

By Tim Craig

The Florida Senate approved legislation Friday that would require local officials to comply with federal immigration authorities, a major win for state GOP leaders who are seeking to enact stringent restrictions on so-called “sanctuary cities.”

The 22 to 18 vote in favor of the bill came two days after the Florida House of Representatives approved its own version of the legislation. The two chambers will now have to reconcile their respective bills before the scheduled end of the legislative session next Friday.

The bills would mandate that local governments accept U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests — known as detainers — that local jails hold suspected undocumented immigrants until federal authorities can take them into custody.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who took office in January, has made the legislation a top priority this year. Helen Ferre, a DeSantis spokeswoman, said the governor is eager to sign the measure into law.

“Governor DeSantis understands that sanctuary cities drive down the wages of Florida workers, erode the rule of law, are unfair to our legal immigrants and incentivize illegal immigration,” Ferre said.

While the definition of what a sanctuary city means can vary, most analysts say Florida does not have any jurisdiction that matches — many sanctuary cities decline to provide information to federal immigration authorities or turn those who are arrested within their borders over to the feds.

A coalition of civil rights groups, social justice advocates, farmers and business leaders had teamed up to try to block the legislation. That led to weeks of emotional debate in a state where 20 percent of residents are foreign-born.

Opponents say both the House and Senate bills are drafted so broadly that Florida law enforcement officials would in effect become deputies in President Trump’s broader crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Opponents fear that heightened cooperation with ICE will increase racial profiling while also undermining the state economy by eroding its workforce.

The Senate bill was sponsored by state Sen. Joe Gruters, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party. The final vote broke down largely along party lines, with one Republican joining all 17 Democrats in opposing the measure.

Before the final vote, many Democratic members pleaded with their GOP colleagues to shelve the legislation, arguing it was a mean-spirited attack on immigrant communities.

“You are putting a target on these individuals,” said state Sen. Perry E. Thurston Jr. (D). “Let’s not hide behind the illusion that we are going after criminals because there is nothing in this legislation that prevents the profiling and targeting of undocumented individuals.”

Sen. David Simmons, a Republican, countered that he and his GOP colleagues were trying to adhere to the “rule of law.”

“This legislation is not intended to hurt anyone — it is to provide a mechanism to solve a significant problem that exists in this state today,” said Simmons, who noted there are about 775,000 undocumented immigrants living in Florida.

House and Senate leaders are expected to meet next week to reconcile the competing versions of the bill. The Senate bill is widely considered to be more moderate than the House version.

Under the House bill, state and local government agencies are also expected “to support federal immigration law.” The state could fine violators up to $5,000 per day.

The Senate bill does not mandate any fines, leaving it up to the state attorney general to enforce the law. The Senate bill also excludes the Florida Department of Children and Families and senators amended the bill Thursday to add protections for undocumented immigrants who have witnessed crimes, according to CBS 4 in Miami.