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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida throws away welcome mat for immigrants, minorities

Two of every three Floridians were not born in this state. One of every five were not born in the United States. One in four are Hispanic or Latino. Just 54 percent of the 21.3 million Floridians are non-Hispanic white, and in a few years most residents of this state will be minorities.

Yet elected officials in Tallahassee are busy taking away the welcome mat for anyone who is not white or who is not an American citizen. Here are five ways Florida is sending the wrong message and tarnishing its image as a melting pot of diverse communities that welcomes tourists from around the world:

1. Banning sanctuary cities. The Legislature is preparing to send to Gov. Ron DeSantis sweeping legislation that requires local law enforcement officials to help enforce federal immigration law and bans sanctuary cities. There are no sanctuary cities in Florida, but this will have more impact than requiring sheriffs to hold for federal authorities anyone they detain who is believed to be undocumented. All sorts of state and local public officials could be unfairly accused of somehow protecting undocumented immigrants, investigated and removed from office. Both citizens and noncitizens who are not white will further distrust police and local government. The American Civil Liberties Union has warned people not to travel to Florida if this legislation becomes law, arguing it will put both legal and undocumented immigrants at risk and erode the ability of local governments to protect civil rights. That is not hyperbole.

2. Arming classroom teachers. The Legislature is poised to allow local school districts to train and arm classroom teachers despite the objections of school boards, teachers and parents. Parents of nonwhite children are concerned their kids will be more distrustful of teachers and more likely to be targeted if any situation becomes violent.

3. Suppressing the vote. Republican lawmakers remain determined to undermine the intent of Amendment 4, which voters approved in November and enables more than 1 million felons to automatically regain their voting rights after their sentences are completed. That group of felons is disproportionately nonwhite, and hundreds of thousands of felons would be excluded if legislators require all restitution, court costs and fees must be paid before voting rights are restored. Court costs and fees should not be included.

4. Adding citizenship question to the census. Attorney General Ashley Moody signed on to a brief filed by several other states in favor of the Trump administration's plan to add a citizenship question on the 2020 census. That case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week. Adding the citizenship question would hurt Florida, because it would discourage both legal and undocumented immigrants from filling out the census forms. Undercounting those residents could cost the state billons in federal dollars and a new congressional seat, which are allocated based on population.

5. Shutting down Visit Florida. This may be the end for the state's tourism marketing operation that was created more than two decades ago. Senate and House negotiators decided to provide Visit Florida with enough money to run only until October. There were indications Friday that DeSantis may persuade lawmakers to keep some version of the agency. It would be foolish to shut down Visit Florida entirely and stop promoting the state to tourists around the world.

Yet many Republican lawmakers believe Florida sells itself even with national headlines about arming classroom teachers, targeting immigrants and suppressing the votes of minorities. Good luck with that.

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