The debate over whether Florida should enact a law banning sanctuary cities in the state will be addressed by state lawmakers again this year. A proposed ban was heard Monday afternoon in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But, despite optimism from the sponsor of the ban, the bill got off to a rough start in the Senate.
After hearing emotional testimony from opponents of the ban, the committee failed to take action on the legislation. The bill is expected to be rescheduled. The Judiciary Committee is one of three committee stops for the bill in the Senate.
Monday’s committee was an indication the proposed ban still has an uphill battle in the Senate. Similar proposals to enact a ban in recent years have died in the Senate when leadership failed to allow the bill to be taken up in the committee process.
A difference this year in the the political dynamics surrounding the proposed legislation had given optimism to supporters of the ban. The senator leading the charge to pass the bill is the man who sponsored the sanctuary cities legislation in the Florida House last year.
Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, was elected to the upper chamber in November and earlier this year was chosen to be chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Gruters has said passing the bill is his “top priority” of this year’s legislative session.
Critics question the need for the law given that there are no sanctuary cities or counties in Florida that give refuge to illegal immigrants.
“There are no sanctuary cities in Florida because there is no definition of what a sanctuary city is,” Gruters responded. “What this bill does is defines what it is to be a sanctuary city.”
“I think everybody understands that this is a campaign promise,” Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said in an interview with the News Service of Florida on Friday. “They are trying to convince part of their base that they are tough against undocumented immigrants even though there is no such thing as a sanctuary city in Florida.
Gruters says the legislation does more than ban sanctuary cities.
“It requires cooperation between the federal government and local communities,” Gruters said. “It’s about making sure Florida is working alongside the federal government to comply with federal immigration laws. And, it’s about making sure we do our part to make sure we’re keeping communities safe and criminals off the streets.”
Gruters says there are currently 27 counties in Florida that have policies to cooperate with federal immigration officials. Under his proposal all 67 counties would be required to cooperate with the feds and honor requests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold undocumented immigrants.
The way the system is supposed to work is when someone is arrested they get processed through the system and local law enforcement decides whether they are here illegally. Before they are released, the local authorities notify ICE, which then has 48 hours to decide whether they want to take the individual into custody.
However, the courts have ruled that such holds of undocumented immigrants violate a person’s constitutional rights.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, says the sanctuary city ban is not one of his priorities in the upcoming session, but believes the bill should be given a chance in the process.
Another change in the political dynamics surrounding the proposed ban is Gov. Ron DeSantis, a staunch opponent of sanctuary cities who Gruters says has promised to sign the bill if passed.
“We will stand for the rule of law. We won’t allow sanctuary cities,” DeSantis said in last month’s inaugural address. “And we will stop incentivizing illegal immigration, which is unfair to our legal immigrants, promotes lawlessness and reduces wages for our blue-collar workers.”
“It’s long overdue,” Gruters said Monday morning. “I hope to be able to convince my colleagues in the Senate that this is the right time to pass this bill.”
“I think it’s going to pass,” Gruters insisted.