Florida Lawmakers Jump Into National Debate Over Illegal Immigration

Apr 17, 2019
Originally published on April 17, 2019 4:49 pm
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In Florida, lawmakers are jumping into the national debate over illegal immigration. The state legislature is poised to approve a law that seeks to ban so-called sanctuary cities. It would require local governments to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and, when requested, detain inmates for possible deportation. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: President Trump has been threatening to transport undocumented immigrants to so-called sanctuary cities, places like San Francisco. Meanwhile, Republican leaders in Florida are taking a step of their own. It's one that was outlined by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis last month in his address to the legislature.

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RON DESANTIS: Let's prohibit sanctuary cities in the state of Florida.

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DESANTIS: DeSantis has close ties to President Trump. He was elected governor with the president's support. Following DeSantis's lead, Republican leaders in the legislature are supporting a bill that would force county and city governments in Florida to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE. They would have to honor ICE detainer requests and agree to hold inmates flagged by the immigration agency for possible deportation. State Senator Joe Gruters is one of the bill's sponsors. Like DeSantis, he's a strong Trump supporter.

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JOE GRUTERS: I certainly appreciate the president. I think he's doing a phenomenal job as our president. I think he's doing everything he can. Obviously, when we have a hundred thousand people every month crossing the border illegally from our southern border, that's a problem.

ALLEN: Gruters, the Trump campaign's co-chairman in Florida and now head of the Florida Republican Party, says his bill has nothing to do with federal immigration policy.

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GRUTERS: This only has to do with the state rule of law and making sure our local elected officials follow the laws that exist on the books at this time.

ALLEN: Texas passed a similar law two years ago that was challenged in the federal courts and upheld on appeal. In Florida, a state where 1 out of 5 residents is an immigrant, the bill has met vocal opposition from immigrant rights groups. A coalition of groups recently issued a travel alert warning that if the bill passes, visitors to Florida could face racial profiling, detention and possible deportation. At a hearing in the Florida House this week, Amy Mercado, a Democrat from the Orlando area, picked up on that theme.

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AMY MERCADO: Are we not profiling, then, tourists? Are we not then scaring the bejesus out of people that are coming here to spend their time, money and with family?

ALLEN: One of the bill's sponsors, Republican Cord Byrd, dismissed those concerns and called the travel alert unfortunate.

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CORD BYRD: It's irresponsible. It is not at all the truth. This bill only ever applies if you find yourself in custody for violating already existing state law.

ALLEN: No cities or counties in Florida identify themselves as sanctuary communities, and more than 30 sheriff's offices have signed agreements with ICE. But a number of local officials, including Miami's police chief, oppose the bill. The bill doesn't just target violent felons. Because undocumented immigrants are unable to hold valid driver's licenses in Florida, activist Tomas Kennedy says just driving can put them at risk of being deported.

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TOMAS KENNEDY: So what's going to happen to those people? How are you going to protect those people who are just trying to get to work, who are trying to get groceries, who are trying to get to church? How are you going to protect those people under this bill?

ALLEN: For weeks, immigration activists have shown up at hearings and lobbied members to oppose the bill. Despite that, the bill is likely to pass in the Republican-controlled legislature and be signed by the governor. Greg Allen, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.