Some lawmakers want harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants. The plan isn't likely to pass.
More than 1,800 undocumented immigrants currently serving time in Florida prisons for felony offenses such as murder or armed burglary could have faced years or even decades more behind bars — at Florida taxpayers’ expense — had a proposal being vetted now by state lawmakers already been law.
Citing a desire to “keep our citizens and constituents safe,” Elkton Republican Sen. Travis Hutson — for the second year in a row — wants to impose stiffer penalties on undocumented immigrants than U.S. citizens or legal residents would otherwise face for the same violent crimes.
Last year, Hutson’s proposal was never considered. But 2017 offers a different dynamic that’s allowing his idea to get at least some consideration and put immigrant advocates on edge.
More conservative Republicans now hold influential positions in the Florida Senate, and the upcoming legislative session comes after a presidential campaign in which illegal immigration was a driving issue and as a Trump White House makes it a priority to crack down on undocumented immigrants — particularly those who commit crimes.
Hutson and other Republican senators — including Senate President Joe Negron, of Stuart — argue enhanced criminal penalties are warranted because undocumented immigrants already flout the law by being in the country illegally.
“You’ve broken the rules to get here, and then you have the temerity to violate our laws and commit violent crimes against our citizens, so I do think that some enhanced penalties are appropriate in that circumstance,” Negron said.
But even with that endorsement, Hutson’s proposal (SB 120) isn’t expected to earn enough support to clear both chambers of the Republican-led Legislature.
The House hasn’t made it an early priority as the Senate has, and Hutson’s plan has drawn swift rebuke from immigrant advocates and some religious groups, who argue the idea is unjust and discriminatory.