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How will Florida’s new immigration law impact law enforcement?

A Tampa Bay advocate warns about driving without a valid license.
 
Tampa Bay police departments said they are not currently conducting traffic stops to check driver’s licenses despite Florida’s new immigration law, which will not recognize documents issued by other states to those without legal status. Here, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister speaks to reporters on Sept. 14 in Tampa.
Tampa Bay police departments said they are not currently conducting traffic stops to check driver’s licenses despite Florida’s new immigration law, which will not recognize documents issued by other states to those without legal status. Here, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister speaks to reporters on Sept. 14 in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published May 19, 2023|Updated May 19, 2023

Tampa Bay police departments said they are not currently conducting traffic stops to check driver’s licenses despite Florida’s new immigration law, which will not recognize documents issued by other states to those without legal status.

But Nanci Palacios, a Dover advocate, advised immigrants not to risk driving without a license and to be accompanied by someone with proper documentation.

The new law, which takes effect July 1, can also result in a third-degree felony charge for someone who transports a person without legal status into the state; requires businesses with 25 or more employees to use a federal database to check a workers’ immigration status; and mandates hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask a patient’s immigration status.

Related: Florida immigration bill sparks fear over racial profiling, discrimination

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Amanda Granit said the agency is fully committed to serving and protecting all residents, regardless of their immigration status.

“We understand the concerns raised by the community, and it is important to note that our deputies are not immigration agents,” said Granit. “We are dedicated to maintaining a positive relationship with the community we serve.”

Clearwater police Chief Daniel W. Slaughter said that his department is still evaluating the new immigration law.

“We, as an agency, do not engage in the unlawful stopping of immigrants and asking for their identification,” Slaughter told the Tampa Bay Times. “Nothing in the bill promotes such activities.”

Few aspects of the new law will be enforced by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, according to spokesperson Scott Wilder.

“The only thing I have seen is about what state-issued licenses are to be considered valid going forward after July 1,” said Wilder. “As I understand it, the state (of Florida) will be providing direction regarding that.”

A post on Facebook shared advice among immigrants in Dover: "If you do go out, try to have someone with a valid license drive. Remember that the police should not ask you about your immigration status."
A post on Facebook shared advice among immigrants in Dover: "If you do go out, try to have someone with a valid license drive. Remember that the police should not ask you about your immigration status." [ Facebook ]

Wilder said the only aspect deputies may enforce would be if someone is transporting immigrants without legal status across state lines. “Because we don’t conduct immigrant enforcement, that provision would only come into effect if it was discovered during another type of investigation we typically conduct, such as drug trafficking,” said Wilder.

The Tampa Police Department said the new law would not change how officers operate.

“From the standpoint of a law enforcement agency, it is the officers’ job to enforce the law, not make them,” said Tampa police spokesperson Merissa Lynn.

St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said his department has not crafted any new policies or guidelines around the new law.

Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Dave Brenn said the agency has not increased patrols to check immigration status.

“We follow the law as written,” Brenn said.