Five Times Florida GOP Chair Joe Gruters Proved to Be Brazenly Anti-Immigrant

State Sen. Joe Gruters stands next to an anti-immigrant sign like a proud parent.
State Sen. Joe Gruters stands next to an anti-immigrant sign like a proud parent. screenshot via Tomas Kennedy / Twitter
It's a bad time to be an immigrant in the United States — and an especially bad time to be one in Florida. The Sunshine State has become a spill tray for the various anti-immigrant initiatives spewing from the White House. Last year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis edged out an electoral victory on a wholly Trumpian platform, promising to crack down and make life as difficult as possible for undocumented immigrants. But DeSantis is just the frontman for a larger band of anti-immigrant Republican legislators making noise in Florida politics. Enter Sarasota state Sen. Joe Gruters.

Gruters has taken to the Trump era like a fish to water, proposing nearly every anti-immigrant policy under the sun and racking up more than a few headlines for questionable antics along the way. Last week, he introduced a bill that would require businesses to check the immigration status of every new employee in Florida. But that's not all he's been up to lately. Here are just some of Gruters' greatest (and by that we mean absolute worst) hits.

1. Gruters was one of the driving forces behind the controversial anti-sanctuary city bill, SB 168:
Among other bills, the Legislature passed SB 168, a much-criticized ban on "sanctuary cities" that forces local municipalities to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement "detainer requests" and hold immigrant detainees in local jails. (Lawmakers passed the measure despite the fact that every city in Florida already does this.)

The ACLU has long warned that ICE's detainers are illegal — the group has repeatedly challenged the detainers in court and won. In March, the ACLU reported that ICE had sent 420 incorrect detainer requests for American citizens to Miami-Dade County from 2017 to 2019. The group is suing both Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties for holding American citizens in their jails. 

2. Clearly striking what he considered to be marketing gold, Gruters posted a racist sign outside his office to scare people into voting for SB 168:
Of course, the sign makes no mention that immigrants — including undocumented people — commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Numerous studies have confirmed this. In July 2018, the Washington Post noted two different studies showing lifelong U.S. residents are actually more dangerous and commit more crimes than undocumented immigrants do... Gruters' sign also doesn't explain why any of those people were deported — maybe they were nabbed for murder, but maybe they just made an illegal U-turn and got stopped by the cops.

3. On more than one occasion, Gruters kept the company of unabashedly anti-immigrant hate groups:
On April 17, Gruters held a news conference to support SB 168, the anti-"sanctuary city" bill he's pushing that would force towns to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigrant-rights groups say the bill, if it became law, would rip apart families just to appease some racist Republican voters.

But two of the other speakers at the presser apparently belonged to hate organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) today posted a Twitter thread noting one speaker, Amapola Hansberger, belonged to Legal Immigrants for America (LIFA), a group that wants to repeal the 14th Amendment and guarantee U.S. citizenship only to English speakers. A second guest, Yvonne Larsen, belonged to the Remembrance Project, a group that falsely preaches that undocumented immigrants are violent and dangerous.

4. Far from denying SB 168 could lead to the deportation of immigrants guilty of no more than driving without a license, Gruters encouraged them to stick to public transportation:
Joe Gruters, the Florida senator, ex-Trump campaign chair in the Sunshine State, and current state Republican Party leader, has a pretty transparent message to undocumented immigrants: Don't bother driving. As part of the deeply racist and controversial "anti-sanctuary city" bill he's proposing, SB 168, Gruters admitted on-camera yesterday that his bill would lead to immigrants getting deported for minor traffic infractions.

His solution? He callously told undocumented immigrants to use public transportation, which is basically nonexistent in Florida thanks to lawmakers such as Gruters.

5. Unsatisfied with going after immigrants this year, Gruters looks to keep his foot on the pedal in the 2020 legislative session:
There are a lot of issues with E-Verify. SB 664 would mandate that the Department of Economic Opportunity alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the identities of undocumented immigrants — an obvious concern for the estimated 656,000 undocumented immigrants living in Florida.

And it's not just immigrants who could be affected. Because E-Verify is notoriously riddled with problems, U.S. citizens can also expect harassment. The system can't catch falsified or stolen information, is built from error-prone government databases, and has far less than a 100 percent success rate. Floridians could lose their jobs if E-Verify were to identify someone incorrectly, which has happened before.
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Manuel Madrid is a former staff writer for Miami New Times. The child of Venezuelan immigrants, he grew up in Pompano Beach. He studied finance at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as a writing fellow for the magazine The American Prospect in Washington, D.C.