TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Republican-controlled House, for the fourth year in a row, is poised to pass legislation that would punish local officials who do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The House late Tuesday prepared the bill (HB 527) for passage, after a four-hour marathon discussion that included Democrats contending the bill would endanger Florida’s tourism workforce and increase deportations of Venezuelans “back to the (President Nicolas) Maduro regime.”
Democrats, however, failed numerous times to amend the measure, which has become one of the most-controversial issues during this year’s legislative session. The House could pass its bill Wednesday, a day before the Senate is expected to take up its version.
In the House, state Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, stood firm on the intent on his bill, which he said is meant to ensure the safety of Florida residents. He said the bill would only target undocumented immigrants detained by law enforcement for violating state laws.
“Every crime committed by a criminal illegal immigrant is a preventable crime,” Byrd said.
Since the start of the legislative session, though, partisan battles have engulfed the debate about the so-called sanctuary city bill. That was showcased on the House floor Tuesday, when Democrats peppered Byrd with myriad questions, including whether he expects deportations to skyrocket as a result of his bill and whether local governments will suffer financially because of the bill’s mandates.
“The bill considers the state’s interest, which supersedes an unfunded mandate,” Byrd said. “There is an indeterminate financial impact.”
Under his bill, all local law enforcement agencies, including sheriff’s offices, local police departments and campus police, would be required to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. That would include a mandate for county jails to hold undocumented immigrants in their custody for up to 48 hours if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sends out detainer requests.
Byrd said it would be up to each county to enter into an agreement with a federal immigration agency to get reimbursed for the costs of housing and detaining undocumented immigrants past their scheduled release time, as required by his bill.
Republicans voted down a series of amendments, which attempted to water down the bill. That included proposals to exclude college and university police departments from enforcing the bill and allowing fines to be imposed on state or local entities if they wrongfully detain U.S. citizens.
The House bill, which is likely to pass just like similar measures since 2016, remains tougher than the one proposed in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota. The full Senate is slated to take up Gruters’ bill (SB 168) on Thursday.
The House seems poised to approve penalties that would allow local officials to be suspended if they are found to have limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
A local government could also be fined up to $5,000 for each day it honors a sanctuary city policy, which under the House bill is defined as a “law, policy, practice or procedure” that impedes communication between a local law-enforcement agency and a federal immigration agency.
Byrd said local governments would also be in violation of state law if they prohibit their local law-enforcement agencies from entering into a type of program -- known as a 287(g) program -- which deputizes local law-enforcement officers to perform the duties of federal immigration agents. Currently, there are five counties that have such agreements, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has urged more counties to put them in place.
DeSantis has backed legislation that would crack down on sanctuary cities, like the House and Senate bills. That has given impetus to the proposals this year, after they did not pass in recent years. When running for governor, DeSantis heavily aligned himself to the immigration platform of President Donald Trump.
“I think that has opened up some doors that had not been previously available,” Gruters said about the governor’s support on the issue.
In the Senate, Gruters, who doubles as head of the Republican Party of Florida, has made the issue his top priority this legislative session. Only one Republican, Sen. Anitere Flores of Miami, has come out against the proposal in the Senate.