PolitiFact Florida: Would House punishment for 'sanctuary' policies be stronger than any U.S. law?

Joan Wynee, center, protests on Jan. 31 following Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gim?nez’s order assuring the Trump administration that Miami-Dade isn’t functioning as a sanctuary city.
Joan Wynee, center, protests on Jan. 31 following Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gim?nez’s order assuring the Trump administration that Miami-Dade isn’t functioning as a sanctuary city.
Published April 3, 2017

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, has raised strong objections to a proposal that would require county and local law enforcement agencies with "sanctuary" policies to comply with the enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties.

HB 697 has passed a couple of committee hearings but needs a full vote in the House and approval in the Senate, where it has not been heard at all, before it can reach Gov. Rick Scott.

Smith's efforts to weaken the measure in a March 21 committee hearing failed. He tried to point out that the bill's penalties are uniquely harsh.

"It will be the only law of its kind in the nation," Smith said.

Smith is basically right about the measure in its current form.

Even though other states have taken up bills on sanctuary cities, no other law or pending bill goes as far as the prohibitions and the penalties imposed in HB 697.

The main way local governments and agencies refuse to comply with immigration authorities is by not honoring written requests to detain people for up to 48 hours longer than they would have been released.

Leaders who support "sanctuary" policies argue that these requests negatively impact police-community relations, are unconstitutional and are not their responsibility to enforce.

Rep. Larry Metz, the Yalaha Republican who sponsored HB 697, followed the lead of President Donald Trump, who promised to cancel funding to places with "sanctuary" policies.

A major component of his bill requires state and local entities, as well as law enforcement agencies, to comply with the enforcement of federal immigration law 90 days after the law goes into effect. If they don't, the penalties include:

• a five-year suspension on receiving nonfederal grant money from state and local entities that don't honor immigration enforcement;

• the threat of automatic suspension and removal from office for elected state officials accused of violation;

• a prohibition of public funds to reimburse or defend a public official accused of violating a sanctuary prohibition policy;

• civil fines if detainers are not honored starting Oct. 1.

Smith found that Alabama, Georgia, Utah and North Carolina have laws that require entities to honor all Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer and information requests. But they do not go as far as HB 697.

For example, Alabama law restricts funds, grants or appropriations until a violation has ceased, but does not have a provision to have a civil cause of action against an official if a person is injured by an undocumented immigrant.

Georgia law authorizes local officials to cooperate with federal immigration officials, but does not require it. Utah restricts sanctuary policies, but does not prescribe penalties.

And North Carolina prohibits sanctuary cities, but there is no enforcement mechanism.

Also, Indiana has a law that prohibits local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, but the penalties are lacking.

National immigration experts agreed with Smith's point.

"If passed, that statement is accurate in that no such law is currently on the books, although several state anti-sanctuary bills are pending with some similar provisions," said Avideh Moussavian, a National Immigration Law Center policy attorney.

Ann Morse, director of the Immigrant Policy Project for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said her group is looking into 100 bills in more than 30 states related to local law enforcement and immigration.

Morse said she couldn't find any pending legislation with quite the penalties listed above.

Monica Varsanyi, an associate professor at political science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, has researched the explosion of state- and local-level immigration policy-making over recent years.

"I can say that I haven't seen anything like this bill," Varsanyi said. "I can't be 100 percent sure that there aren't others out there, however."

The only other state considering a bill anywhere close to Florida's is Texas, which is considering a piece of legislation that would prohibit sanctuary city policies and apply some of the same penalties included in HB 697, including withholding grant money and civil fines.

The penalties in Florida's bill go further by restricting grant funds for up to five years. Texas' bill only withholds funds for the following year.

Metz told PolitiFact Florida he got the idea to withhold grant money from the Texas bill but considered its language too general. Because this is the second year Metz has proposed this type of legislation, he was able to survey bills from 2016 and 2017 before finalizing HB 697.

In some of the bills he surveyed this year, he said, some looked at making a "sanctuary" policy a criminal violation.

"I did not go that route," Metz said. "I felt it should remain in the civil arena, but with significant penalties."

Smith's statement is accurate but needs additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.

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