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Bill to eliminate sanctuary cities in Florida moves through another House committee

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Legislation banning sanctuary city policies moved through another Florida House committee Tuesday.

Yalaha Republican Rep. Larry Metz‘s bill (HB 697) would force any “sanctuary city” or county in Florida to remove all formal or informal policies shielding undocumented immigrants from federal custody. It passed the House Subcommittee on Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs on a 9-5 vote on Tuesday.

The legislation would fine 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.

Cities and law enforcement agencies would also be barred from having laws or policies blocking communication with federal immigration agents.

Taxpayers would have to foot the bill for enforcing federal immigration policies — with no guarantee of federal reimbursement.

“We are very very concerned that the underlying bill is unconstitutional,” warned Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, who offered up seven different amendments to the bill, all of which were shot down by the GOP-controlled committee. He said that detainer requests “are not worth the paper that they are printed on.”

Smith said that there are 925,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida, and they have constitutional rights. “This bill violates their constitutional rights. Their presence, while it may be unlawful, is not a criminal act. It is a civil violation,” he said.

Miami Democrat Daisey Baez, a native from the Dominican Republican and a solider with the U.S. Army, said that it was a hostile environment when she served as a young soldier in Central Texas when she spoke limited English, but “I have never felt as unwanted and as vilified as I have felt now,” she said as her voice broke. “We are not criminals.”

Baez called the legislation “misguided,” and an example of “big government, of paranoia and persecution. That is not the nation that we are.”

“This is a terrible bill,” added Belle Glade Democrat Joseph Abruzzo.

For such a controversial and sensitive issue, the debate was mostly civil. Mostly.

“This is one step towards Nazism in the United States,” said Gail Perry with the Communications Workers of America.

In his closing statement, Metz said that his grandparents were immigrants from Germany, but that it was important to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration.

“It’s very important to recognize the rule of law in our country,” he said. “We’re simply saying cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement efforts, so that we can have seamless enforcement of the rule of law.”

In late January, President Trump signed an executive order pulling all federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal officials looking to weed out and deport undocumented people. A day after that announcement, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez signed an order demanding that Miami-Dade County’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation comply with every aspect of Trump’s plan.

The legislation is being sponsored in the Senate by Fernandina Beach Republican Aaron Bean (SB 786). Abruzzo predicted it would die in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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