Ah, Thanksgiving — the holiday when we’re called to give thanks for the fall harvest and hark back to centuries past, when scores of immigrants arrived on the shores of the New World to begin building the United States of America. It’s a time to share — and to be grateful, inviting, and conciliatory.
Except that this year, the nation's Thanksgiving tone is the opposite of welcoming. Lately, a stinky air of anti-immigrant sentiment has swept the United States, fueled by openly anti-immigrant presidential candidate Donald Trump and embraced by GOP lawmakers across the country. Florida lawmakers, of course, have followed Trump's lead.
In Tallahassee, a number of bills have been filed in recent weeks that experts say threaten immigrant families in the state, including by toughening deportation proceedings, enhancing penalties for undocumented immigrants, and cutting temporary cash assistance. Even Cuban-American state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, of Miami, has been compared to Donald Trump for his comments on immigration, spurring the hashtag #AltoTrujillo.
Immigrant rights advocate Francesca Menes of the Florida Immigrant Coalition says it’s the most brazen anti-immigrant climate she’s seen in her seven years working on the issues in Florida.
“Normally in an election cycle, everyone wants to cater to the immigrant vote because they know how important it is,” Menes says. “But this time around, they’re not worried about our vote, and they’re saying the craziest things I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Earlier this month, the entire Miami delegation in Congress supported Paul Ryan for speaker of the House after Ryan assured the Republican Caucus that he wouldn’t even consider immigration reform. Even Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who’s claimed to be a champion of immigration reform, has repeatedly touted Ryan.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition, a statewide alliance of more than 50 member organizations — including farmworkers, students, service providers, grassroots organizations, and legal advocates — is working to educate local communities across the state about the legislation being pushed to strip immigrants of their rights.
“This time of year, we’re usually mobilizing our communities and working to hold both parties accountable,” Menes says. “But then, out of nowhere, Trump appeared, pushing out his hate message, and state governments are really capitalizing on it. So we’ve had a shift from a positive, proactive strategy to be on the defensive.”
Here's a rundown of some of the bills advocates are closely watching:
HB9: Reentry Into State by Certain Persons
Sponsor: Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Cuban American who represents parts of Broward, Collier and Miami-Dade County, and the House Civil Justice Committee
This bill would make reentering Florida after having been deported from the U.S. a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 in fines.
SB118: Persons Subject to Final Deportation Orders
Sponsor: Sen. Travis Hutson, from the Palm Coast
This bill would make it a first-degree felony for a person who has an order of deportation to continue living in Florida, which would be punishable by up to 30 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
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HB675/SB872: Federal Immigration Enforcement
House Sponsor: Rep. Larry Metz, representing Lake County; cosponsor: Rep. Doug Broxson, representing northern Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties
Senate Sponsor: Sen. Aaron Bean; cosponsors: Senators Hutson and Joe Negron, representing the east coast of Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties
This bill would prohibit local governments and entities from adopting Trust Acts, which are policies that strengthen relationships between law enforcement and immigrant communities. These acts have been adopted in states and counties across the nation. The legislation would force local governments and officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and authorize the state attorney general to sue local governments and officials who do not comply and fine localities up to $5,000 per day for not enforcing the policies.
SB150: Offenses by Illegal Immigrants
Sponsor: Sen. Travis Hutson
This bill would enhance the penalties of criminal offenses committed by undocumented immigrants.
HB563/SB750: Temporary Cash Assistance Program
House Sponsor: Rep. Matt Gaetz
Senate Sponsor: Senator Hutson; cosponsor: Senator Bean
This bill would cut temporary cash assistance by 18 months — from 48 months to 30 months of benefits — for all Florida families. The primary member of the family must report his or her income in determining eligibility for the whole family.