A Jacksonville lawmaker’s push to ban so-called sanctuary cities through stiff penalties for communities that fail to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities is gaining traction in the Florida Legislature.
Republican Rep. Cord Byrd, who is sponsoring the bill (HB 527), held a press conference Wednesday in Tallahassee with lawmakers, advocates, and victims of undocumented immigrants, in an apparent effort to garner more support for his proposal. He said his legislation is not about being anti-immigrant.
“This is about not putting either legal or illegal immigrants over American citizens. We are applying the same rules that would apply to U.S. citizens that we’re going to apply to anyone else,” he said. “It’s about public safety.”
The measure, which cleared its final House committee last week, would require cities and law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal authorities that enforce immigration law.
Among those who spoke are Kiyan and Bobby Michael, who say their 21-year-old son was killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2007.
“We’re using the tragedy that we’ve been through to speak out because we want our nation to be a law abiding nation. We want our citizens to be safe,” said Kiyan Michael. “We want our law enforcement are able to communicate, so that parents don’t have to go through this.”
According to the bill analysis, elected officials and government employees who approve sanctuary policies could be suspended or removed from office. The proposal would also fine those municipalities up to $5,000 a day and agencies that don’t comply with federal authorities would risk losing state grant funding.
Critics say the bill would make communities less safe by eroding trust with local law enforcement.
“We do not believe that the job of local police is to act as immigration enforcement,” said Thomas Kennedy, Political Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide coalition of more than 50 immigrant rights organizations. “The job of police is to make sure that our communities are safe and this bill would actually harm that.”
Byrd has maintained there are places in Florida that have some form of sanctuary policy, but he was unable to provide a list of them when WJCT News asked for it last month. Critics have asked whether he's solving an actual problem.
"If there truly aren't any, then that's great," he said. "They can join us in ensuring there won't every be any in Florida."
Critics also worry that if the bill passes, non-citizen victims and witnesses would be too afraid of being deported to cooperate with law enforcement.
The bill’s companion (SB 168), which is sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, is going before is going before its final Senate committee.