Florida Legislature Passes Pro-ICE Sanctuary-City Ban Despite Civil-Rights Outcry

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis
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Florida's elected leaders last night made good on what was basically Gov. Ron DeSantis' central campaign promise — to deport more immigrants. Last night, the Legislature finally passed SB 168, the much-criticized "sanctuary city" ban, which forces municipalities to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and hold ICE detainees in local jails. Importantly, every city in Florida already does this.

Although Republicans control the state Senate, House, and governor's mansion, the bill barely succeeded. Legislators repeatedly amended it, bouncing the legislation between the House and Senate until late in the evening, when a heavily amended version ultimately cleared both chambers. DeSantis then announced he plans to sign the measure into law.

“Earlier this year, I asked the Florida Legislature to present me with a bill this session that upholds the rule of law and addresses sanctuary cities and counties in Florida," DeSantis said yesterday evening in a media release. "We are a stronger state when we protect our residents, foster safe communities and respect the work of law enforcement at every level. Local law enforcement agencies can and should work with the federal government to ensure that accountability and justice are one in our state. I’d like to thank Senate President Bill Galvano, House Speaker Jose Oliva, Senator Joe Gruters, and Representative Cord Byrd for recognizing the importance of this issue."

Notably, local cops have warned the measure will likely make Floridians less safe. Portions of the law authorize them to report crime victims to ICE if those victims don't properly comply with law enforcement requests. Police warn these provisions typically discourage immigrants from reporting crimes out of fear they may be deported. Last month, Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said on a local AM radio station that "they would have to fire [him] as a police officer" before he sent a crime victim to ICE.

While Miami-Dade County Police Director Juan Perez has made similar statements, his department has already sent at least one victim to immigration authorities. Mabel Perez-Ordonez, a 38-year-old mother of three, visited an MDPD station while reporting a crime to authorities in February. MDPD responded by alerting ICE agents, who then detained and nearly deported her to Nicaragua. She later told New Times that she now warns immigrants to "think twice" before calling the cops to report a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also steadfastly opposed the bill on legal grounds. Civil-rights activists have repeatedly challenged the constitutionality of ICE's detainers in court — and won. In addition, the ACLU notes that ICE routinely sends out detainer requests for American citizens by mistake. Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties are each currently being sued for accidentally detaining Americans on ICE's behalf. 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 bill's sponsors also, perhaps unsurprisingly, had some ties to right-wing extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center first warned this year that when Florida lawmakers proposed a nearly identical version of the bill years ago, the draft legislation came from Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), a right-wing anti-immigrant group. FLIMEN is an offshoot of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a far-right group founded by a man who believed in Nazi-style eugenics and that Latinos were not "capable" of governing themselves.

After the SPLC's disclosure, the News Service of Florida reported that SB 168's sponsor, Florida Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters, had been in contact with FLIMEN during this legislative cycle. Gruters then held a press event with even more right-wing extremist groups.

Roughly a month ago, the ACLU and a coalition of civil-rights groups warned immigrants should think twice about even visiting Florida if SB 168 was passed.

"If either bill becomes law, it would devastate Florida’s communities by increasing the likelihood of racial profiling, diverting local law enforcement resources from safeguarding our communities, and could cost Florida taxpayers millions of dollars and potentially create irreparable damage to immigrant families," the groups warned.

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