Florida House passes ban on 'sanctuary cities' for undocumented immigrants

Published Feb. 4, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Wednesday voted to require local governments to detain people thought to be undocumented immigrants and, in some cases, let the governor remove local officials from office when they don't comply.

It's an effort to stop so-called "sanctuary cities," which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agencies. The House's proposal (HB 675) includes not only traditional sanctuary cities but also any place that releases nonviolent offenders who may be undocumented immigrants.

That could potentially impact as many as 30 Florida counties, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, including all of South Florida and Tampa Bay.

"We have a problem that we have to build walls to keep people out of our country because we're the greatest country in the world," said Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, the bill sponsor. "Without both border security and internal enforcement, the system breaks down, and to fix it, we have to do our part in the state of Florida."

The bill passed with the support of 80 Republicans. Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando, was the lone Republican to join ranks with Democrats in opposition. A similar proposal has not advanced in the Senate.

"This bill is part of a continuing effort that's an assault on people who choose to migrate here," said Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura.

What's more, argued Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, it would be costly for local governments. Miami-Dade County, he said, would have to spend millions to detain undocumented immigrants who committed nonviolent crimes.

The county's policy, he said, doesn't make it a sanctuary county, because police work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in some cases. But those federal officials rarely follow through with deportation orders for undocumented immigrants arrested on charges of non-violent crimes.

"You're taking your frustration out on what the federal government is or is not doing with respect to immigration," Rodriguez said, "and you're punishing local government for it."

In addition to banning sanctuary city policies, Metz's bill allows the families of people killed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities to sue the local government. And it allows the governor to remove officials in those communities from office unless they made a clear effort to repeal those policies.

Metz is one of three House members proposing legislation targeting illegal immigration.

A proposal by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, would include wages earned by undocumented immigrants in determining state welfare benefits for their family members. And Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, is pushing legislation for imposing state criminal penalties on deported people who re-enter the state.

Supporters rebuffed claims that their goal is to go after the state's immigrant population.

"This bill is not an assault on immigrants," said Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Sarasota. "This bill is only to protect the very reasons why immigrants come to this country: to seek freedom."

Contact Michael Auslen at Follow @MichaelAuslen.