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Democrats slam sanctuary city ban bill ahead of House vote

There was no vote on Tuesday. But Democrats had many concerns.

A bill that would officially ban “sanctuary jurisdictions in Florida was discussed Tuesday on the House floor.

Though no vote was held on the bill, which rolled over for Third Reading after hours of questions and answers and dozens of failed amendments, tensions were high and arguments were pitched.

The bill (HB 527), by Neptune Beach Republican Cord Byrd and Vero Beach Republican Erin Grall, creates the “Rule of Law Adherence Act” to “require state and local governments and law enforcement agencies … to support and cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.”

Byrd contended that the crux of the law was equal treatment for an “illegal alien” and an “American citizen.” He noted that the bill applies to people in custody, with federal immigration authorities contacted, via 287(g) agreements, if a non-citizen is arrested.

“Last year a million names were run through the federal immigration database and ICE only took an interest in about 15 percent of them,” Byrd said, in answer to a series of questions from Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos G. Smith.

“The state of Florida can’t deport anybody,” Byrd added.

Byrd also said, in response to claims that there were no sanctuary cities in Florida, that if that were the case then the bill would have no impact.

However, Byrd contended that counties who did not have those 287(g) agreements would be in “violation,” should the law pass.

“We are not the gatekeepers of federal immigration policy,” Byrd noted.

Byrd added that one of his first official acts was attending the funeral of a Nassau County deputy killed by an “illegal alien,” as a way of pointing out the granular consequences of immigration enforcement gaps.

Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat, expressed concerns that cash-strapped counties and departments would not be reimbursed for holding those suspected of violating immigration law.

Byrd said a 287(g) agreement would offer a vehicle for reimbursement. Cortes was not mollified, saying that such enforcement would lead to overcrowding and a need for new prisons.

Rep. Javier Fernandez, a Coral Gables Democrat, countered that just a third of costs incurred by local jurisdictions in immigration detainment are absorbed by the feds.

And North Miami Rep. Dotie Joseph, another Democrat, contended that federal reimbursement is capped at $50 for a 48-hour period.

When Rep. Evan Jenne called the measure an “unfunded mandate,” Byrd contended that despite local spending, the “offset” would be in savings in other areas.

“The bill contemplates an important state interest which supersedes the unfunded mandate,” Byrd said, before revising his assessment to an “indeterminate financial impact.”

Byrd was blunt when asked about the impact on “illegal immigrants”: “We all make choices in life,” he said, adding some people chose to come into the United States illegally (or stay illegally).

As the hour grew late, Democrats continued to pepper Byrd with questions, although they knew it was futile: “Unfortunately,” said Rep. Cindy Polo, “this bill is going to pass.”

On that point, at least, Byrd agreed.

A series of Democrat-offered amendments, including one requiring probable cause for a detainer, went down on voice votes.

Though the so-called sanctuary cities ban is moving apace, at least one Gainesville church has a workaround.

Gainesville’s Westminster Presbyterian Church plans a media conference on Wednesday to announce its plans to be a “sanctuary church.”

At this writing, more than 300 churches nationally self-identify as such. It is possible other congregations follow its lead.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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