'Sanctuary cities' ban appears to be on fast track

By Mike Vasilinda - Tallahassee Bureau Chief

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - After years of stalling, immigration reform is getting a hearing in the Florida Capitol.

Legislation to require local sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials appears to be on the fast track. 

Advocates have been fighting immigration reform at the state Capitol for almost a decade.

Each year, reforms have failed, but this year, legislation requiring local law enforcement agencies to hold immigrants with federal detainers for at least 48 hours is gaining traction.

“This is about criminal, illegal aliens who are violating our laws,” said Senate Sponsor Joe Gruters,  a Sarasota senator who doubles as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

The House has always supported a ban on sanctuary cities, but what has changed this year is a Senate that is less moderate, and a governor who is pushing hard to get the bill on his desk.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has campaigned on immigration reform and made it the centerpiece in both his inaugural and State of the State addresses.

“We not allow someone here illegally to commit criminal misconduct,” DeSantis said.

The change of political winds has immigration advocates concerned.

“We really should be focused on how to pull our communities together. Focus on economic opportunities,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami. 

Florida State University student Nataly Chaco Lopez said her parents were reluctant to drive her to college for fear of being stopped.

“It means that every time a loved one gets behind the wheel you get scared. It means freaking out every time your mom texts you, call me, because that call could change your life forever,” Lopez said.

Gruters calls the fears nonsense.

“There is a lot of fearmongering going on and this bill is about focusing on what’s right for the citizens," Gruters said.

The sponsor contends the legislation will only apply to up to 4,600 people who are in state prison or county jails.

In Florida, 29 counties are currently cooperating with immigration policies. According to a report by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, 12 counties and three cities have policies against cooperating that would be reversed by the legislation.

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