South Florida’s status as a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants, where many cities do not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in detaining individuals pegged for deportation, may collapse soon if two recently proposed bills are passed in the state senate.
Despite protests from advocates gathered in Tallahassee, the House Civil Justice Committee approved the “sanctuary city” Bill HB 675, sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, which would charge $5,000 a day to police and other local officials who do not cooperate with ICE in detaining individuals with deportation orders. The Justice Appropriations Subcommittee also approved Bill HB 9, sponsored by Rep. Carlos Trujillo R-Miami, which would make it a felony to live in Florida with a deportation order. While Democrats on both committees voted against the two bills, the bills received full support from Republican representatives.
One protester, a Jamaican undocumented immigrant giving his name only as “Washy,” expressed grief over the recent vote, fearing “if this law pass, plenty people going to be deported.”
Attorney Gloria Pratt of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FIC), said the law will indeed affect “thousands of undocumented immigrants, and “will reverse immigration advances in Florida several years.”
According to a report from the Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), there are over 950,000 undocumented immigrants in the state in 2014. There is no clear data regarding the number of undocumented immigrants from the Caribbean residing in Florida and the wider U.S. But the fraction of undocumented immigrants that were caught and deported to Caribbean in 2015 was nearly 3,700, with the Dominican Republic and Jamaica ranking fifth and tenth respectively among the nations with the most deportees.
Deportation, however, is just one concern for immigrant communities in South Florida, says Pratt, arguing that the law “will likely elevate distrust between law enforcement and immigrants.”
“The two bills place new risks on the police, as well as the general public,” also notes Democrat Representative Cynthia Stafford, Miami. “If the law passes, police will be cautious of facing huge fines if they fail to report undocumented immigrants.”
And though Bill HB 675 includes some exceptions for witnesses and victims of a crime, the mere threat of a felony, says Rep. Stafford, may be enough for “some immigrants who need the assistance in dire circumstances to be afraid to deal with the police.”
One Miami-Dade police officer, speaking to the National Weekly under anonymity, says the laws would also “place undue pressure on county jails to hold potential deportees, and on the police to apprehend those who they ‘believed’ to be undocumented.”
Metz, however, defended the bill, saying that although he sympathized with the protestors, the law is needed to protect the security of the state. Metz pointed to last year’s shooting of 32-year-old Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by a five-time deportee who was not detained by local authorities despite requests from the ICE.
“That should never happen anywhere,” said Metz. “The intent of this bill is to make sure it never happens in the state of Florida.”