Florida GOP Chair Tells Undocumented Immigrants to "Use Public Transportation" or Risk Arrest Under New Bill

State Sen. Joe Gruters
State Sen. Joe Gruters Tomas Kennedy / Twitter
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.

"If people don't have driver's licenses, my guess is to do your best to do public transportation," Gruters said yesterday during a press gaggle.
Two points here: One, it's nightmarishly difficult to survive in Florida using only public transit, even in urban centers such as Miami. Two, and perhaps more important: No one is arguing that driving without a license should be legal. The issue is that Gruters, who looks like a potato brought to life by a racist warlock, wants to turn it into a deportable offense.

Notably, Gruters is pushing his bill, which would force municipalities to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, despite the fact there are no sanctuary cities in Florida. Miami-Dade County, for example, began holding immigrant detainees on behalf of ICE in January 2017, mere days after Donald Trump took office. Since then, Miami-Dade has not received any financial benefit from the Trump administration but has blown millions of dollars holding ICE detainees and has also been sued for holding American citizens in jail by accident. The county was warned those things would happen.

This is also far from the first time someone in the Florida Legislature has pushed an anti-sanctuary crackdown. But though those bills ultimately stalled in the past, Gruters' legislation has a shot at becoming law because Gov. Ron DeSantis' single largest campaign promise was to crack down on immigrants in Florida. The bill has already sailed through two House committees.

The House Infrastructure and Security Committee held a meeting for the bill yesterday in the state capital. Before the meeting began, immigrant activists tried to visit Gruters' Tallahassee office, but they say they were not allowed to speak to the lawmaker. Instead, activists say, one of his staffers asked whether one labor-rights organizer, Maria Asunción Bilbao, was "a criminal," because Gruters' bill allegedly applies to only "criminals."

Activists also posted photos of an amazingly offensive poster of undocumented "criminal" immigrants outside Gruters' office despite the fact that immigrants statistically commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans:
Hours after that office visit, the Infrastructure and Security Committee held its meeting. That event descended into chaos. During the section of the meeting devoted to public comments, members of the anti-immigrant group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN) spoke in favor of the bill. (According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, FLIMEN is affiliated with the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform.)

After the bill passed through the committee, activists reportedly shouted, "Shame on you!" at lawmakers at the meeting, and some of the visitors were escorted out of the room by security.
But while the bill is still up for a vote, activist groups have continued to speak out against its possible implementation. The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, for example, has consistently warned lawmakers not to pass SB 168, especially because, in addition to hurting and terrifying undocumented people, the rule would lead to more U.S. citizens being detained by mistake.

"SB168, a misguided and discriminatory anti-immigrant bill, would endanger immigrants and people of color in Florida," the ACLU of Florida tweeted yesterday.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.