Immigration activists are telling potential visitors to “stay away” from Florida.
Expressing concerns about reports of arrests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which grew at a larger rate in Florida than anywhere else in the country over the past year, as well as a recent pact between 17 sheriffs and ICE, groups of activists held a protest in five cities across the state.
At a press conference and rally Wednesday in front of the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa, protesters called for the public to reconsider visiting Florida due to what they claim is racial profiling occurring in the state.
“We’re also advising that they particular avoid high-risk areas, such as the counties that are increasing their collaboration with ICE and DHS as well as airports, seaports, Greyhound bus stations, 7-11 convenience stores and gas stations,” said Briann Gonyea, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations,
Although it’s questionable how significant such an advisory might affect Florida, recent statistics show a decline in travel to the U.S. since President Donald Trump took office; new data from the Commerce Department shows the slump translates $4.6 billion in lost spending as well as a drop of 40,000 jobs, according to an analysis by the U.S. Travel Association.
Florida saw a total of 6,192 arrests by ICE agents in2017, according to a recently released study from the Pew Research Center. That was the largest increase of any state in the nation.
An incident on a Greyhound bus in January also shook advocates for the undocumented.
As the bus pulled up to a Fort Lauderdale station on a Friday afternoon last month en route to Miami, the driver announced there would be a “routine” security checkpoint. Two uniformed officers boarded the bus and instructed each person to present “a U.S. identification or a passport with a stamp of entrance.”
A woman, identified only as “Beverly” was detained, CBS 4 reports. Three days later, the woman was turned over to ICE and Enforcement Removal Operations (ERO) for removal proceedings.
That event has haunted and angered activists such as Maria Jose Chapa, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, who likened the actions to something out of Nazi Germany.
“Who is suspicious among our community? There are plenty of people who are undocumented but how do you point those people out?” she asked. “Are we targeting everyone, or are we only specifically targeting black and brown bodies or people who have accents that don’t sound American English?”
While the activists say people of color, in particular, should be careful about visiting Florida, there has yet to have been a single collective crackdown in the Sunshine State as there have been in other American cities. A series of operations taking place last week in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and San Antonio led to more than 680 arrests , according to figures released by ICE.
Also subject to strong criticism at the Tampa rally were Florida Republicans who have embraced tough policies on immigration.
“The Republican Speaker of House, Richard Corcoran, once called Donald Trump repugnant and lamented how people could accept a presidential candidate who offended so many groups of people, including women, people of disabilities and Latinos,” said Stephanie Garza with For Our Future FL. Garza recounted how Corcoran has done a 180 degree turn on the president, praising him for ending DACA, the executive order granting protection from deportation to thousands of undocumented students, and is now pushing for HB 9, which would ban so-called sanctuary cities.
“There are no sanctuary cities in Florida,” Garza said.”This bill is about blowing the dog whistle for the country’s far-right by scapegoating America’s income disparities and economic problems onto communities of color.”
Tuesday night, Corcoran debated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum about sanctuary cities. In an email sent after the debate from Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC, a spokesman wrote: “The Speaker’s message was simple, ‘If it weren’t for San Francisco’s sanctuary policies, Kate Steinle would still be alive.’ Speaker Corcoran clearly showed why he is recognized statewide as a bold conservative leader, who fearlessly champions policies that put the interests of Floridians first.”
Activists also took aim at Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the other fifteen sheriffs in Florida who recently signed an agreement with ICE to prevent the release of criminal undocumented immigrants into the community.
Activist Marc Rodrigues questioned if all undocumented immigrants would be vetted in the same way by the sheriffs.
“If a person has overstepped their Visa and they’re from Canada or Ireland, is the same ‘suspicion’ applied to them? Or does it only apply to brown people?” he asked.
At the conclusion of the press conference, the 25 activists walked a few blocks over to the Greyhound station to ask if they would continue to allow ICE agents to look for undocumented immigrants on their buses.
A spokesperson for Greyhound told Florida Politics that they would issue a statement, but it had not been received by post time.