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Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri testifies in support of Sen. Joe Gruters' Sanctuary Cities bill.

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Joe Gruters’ sanctuary cities bill gets law enforcement backing

Democrats blasted the legislation as shameful and divisive.

Sen. Joe Gruters showed up with a posse of Florida sheriffs to back up his proposed ban on “sanctuary cities.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri sat alongside the Sarasota Republican as the Senator presented his bill (SB 168) to the Judiciary Committee. The law enforcement support helped the legislation pass out of committee with a 4-2 vote.

“This is the right thing to do for Florida,” Gruters said. “It’s just common sense.”

But Democrats strongly disagreed, saying the bill will sow more division between authorities and immigrants.

“Once again, Republicans have shamefully voted against immigrant communities,” said Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo.

“SB 168 would create more fear in our communities at the cost of taxpayers and is contrary to the diversity of the people in our state. We stand against this bill and its anti-immigrant sentiment that will serve to create more division and hatred in our state.”

The controversial legislation has drawn attention from immigrant advocates. At a hearing earlier this month and at a meeting Tuesday, immigrants and family members drove hundreds of miles to voice their displeasure.

Gruters said the bill isn’t truly about immigration but cooperation. The legislation requires local law enforcement jurisdictions to comply with federal detainer warrants.

Right now, only 29 of Florida’s 67 counties have agreements in place with the federal government for full compliance with detainers. Gruters’ bill would require all cooperate.

But whether immigration detainers, which get issued administratively by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, should bear weight divided lawmakers.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, questioned if the requirement placed unfair burdens on local jails. He said because those detainers get issued by agents, not judges, the legitimacy of the warrants remains in legal question.

“These detainers don’t go before any independent authority, much less a judicial authority,” Rodriguez said.

Gualtieri, the most prominent of at least four sheriffs attending in support of the bill, said that’s an issue for Congress to address. Immigration detainers only originate from ICE.

“That’s the only scheme or provisional framework that the U.S. Congress has put in place,” he said. While comprehensive immigration reform could alter the process in the future, Gualtieri said local officials must respect the warrants as issued.

But a civil-rights attorney said the legality of administrative warrants remains shaky. Kara Gross, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Florida, called them “meaningless.”

“Detainers are not arrest warrants,” she said. “They are pieces of paper from federal employees to detain individuals.”

Rodriguez offered four amendments to Gruters bill addressing jurisdiction, processing and other concerns. All failed.

Gruters did agree to a number of changes before the committee hearing. Most notably, provisions were dropped that threatened local officials considering sanctuary city polices from being removed from office.

The bill would still prohibit sanctuary policies from going into place. But he also dropped parts of the bill critics said required indefinite detention of immigrants.

Gruters’ bill now says authorities, if a detainer warrant comes back on someone processed into a Florida jail or prison, must hold the individual for at least 48 hours.

Gualtieri said ICE will not leave an inmate in local care for more than that. If they do, federal policy says local police may then release the individual. So does the current version of Gruters’ bill.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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