As the Trump administration issues fresh threats to withhold or revoke law enforcement grant money from communities that refuse to cooperate with federal efforts to find and deport immigrants in the country illegally, Clay County is taking steps to get off the list of sanctuary cities and counties.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions' announced Monday that Justice Department would deny money to cities that violate a federal law dealing with information-sharing among local police and federal authorities.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, Clay and Hernando counties and the town of Alachua, west of Gainesville, are the places in Florida listed as sanctuaries.
Newly elected Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels told News4Jax that whatever the policy has been, he's going to follow federal law.
“In the best interest of national security, it is incumbent on each law-enforcement agency leader to cooperate with ICE. Under my administration, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with the federal agency. We have already taken in detainers from ICE. I want illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Clay County to bear the full weight of the law. If that means deportation, then so be it," Daniels said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature is debating a bill that would crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities."
The bill (HB 697) by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, would require local governments and universities to comply with federal immigration laws and would impose stiff penalties on those that declare themselves sanctuaries from immigration enforcement.
Under the measure -- dubbed the "Rule of Law Adherence Act" -- state or local governmental entities or law-enforcement agencies would be fined up to $5,000 for each day they are deemed to be out of compliance. The bill would require complying with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests, repealing current sanctuary policies and providing information about immigration violations to state authorities.
Democrats and immigrants' rights groups criticized the bill, which was approved 9-5 by the House Local, Federal & Veterans Subcommittee in a party-line vote. They said it targets immigrant communities and would create a parallel immigration enforcement regime that Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, described as smacking of "big government, paranoia and persecution."
But Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, argued that while undocumented immigrants' presence in the country may be illegal, it is a civil offense that does not warrant proactive criminal prosecution.
“Contrary to popular belief, even undocumented residents of the state and this country have constitutional rights,” Smith said.
Smith introduced six amendments that would have scaled back the bill, but the proposals were defeated in a succession of voice votes.
Baez offered emotional testimony against the bill, citing her immigration from the Dominican Republic in 1972 and a long journey from struggling to support her young family to success as a health-care executive in South Florida.
Baez said the move to consider the bill reflected a troubling trend of anti-immigration rhetoric at the federal level.
"I have never felt as unwanted and as vilified as I do now," said Baez. "We are not criminals."
The American Civil Liberties Union took issue with a proposed requirement that law-enforcement officers detain possible illegal immigrants for 48-hour periods after arrests on separate charges to determine their immigration status.
"This essentially amounts to whole new arrest without probable cause in violation of the 4th Amendment," Kara Gross, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida told The News Service of Florida. "It opens up the door for racial profiling and discriminatory policing."
The bill, however, has received heavy support in the Republican-dominated House, drawing 23 co-sponsors and passing the Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee earlier this month. The bill must clear the House Judiciary Committee before it can go to the House floor.
A Senate version (SB 786), filed by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, had not been taken up in committees as of last week.