A House proposal would fine local governments and law enforcement agencies for not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement. Immigrant advocates say the bill is overbearing and goes too far.
“We must continue to discourage illegal immigration for it undermines control of our borders. And even more punishes hard working people who play by the rules and who wait for their turns to come to the United States. Therefore, we must enforce our laws but we will do so with justice and fairness," said Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville)
Byrd quoted President Bill Clinton while closing on his bill that would require local governments and law enforcement agencies to cooperate with The United State Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.
Kara Gross of American Civil Liberties Union, argues Florida is already cooperating.
"The misnamed HB 527 Rule of Law Adherence Act, isn’t about following the current rule of law because we are already doing that. It’s about creating from whole cloth a new anti-immigrant law that goes beyond what is currently required by law and runs counter to the constitution," said Gross.
She believes it will lead to more immigrants being detained even if they haven’t committed a violent crime. Margarita Roma a farm worker advocate and member of the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame shared a story to go along with that argument.
“I saw an entire car that the only person, the person that was driving didn’t have a license. The people in the car were undocumented, but they all went and they were all deported. And none of them were criminals," said Roma.
Rep. Mike Beltran (R-Valrico) who co-sponsors the proposal says them being undocumented is the crime.
“Illegal entry that’s a federal misdemeanor, 18 U.S.C. 1326 Reentry After Deportation that’s a federal felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. So there are two federal statutes that kind of come to mind to me just sitting here that you would have probable cause if you came, or very close to probable cause simply coming across somebody who isn’t a united states citizen and doesn’t have the appropriate documentation," said Beltran.
But Rep. Ben Diamond (D-St.Petersburg) questioned exactly what it would take to find a probable cause. Byrd answered.
“The bill does not target people based on their appearance and no one will be asked to show their papers. Put simply the only people that this law applies to are people that are in custody for committing a criminal violation against the laws against the state of Florida where a local or state law enforcement agency already found probable cause for that person to be detained," said Byrd.
He says he’s heard the bill called racist, and anti-immigrant. But says that’s both surprising and offensive.
“I’ve helped immigrants study to become United States citizens who did it the right way. Hard working people who wanted to play by the rules and who came to this country because we have a rule of law. And, also it offends me in some respect because, as a lawyer I’ve represented immigrants I’ve represented them in courts of law to defend the rule of law and their rights as legal immigrants in this country," said Byrd.
But Roma an immigrant advocate, says it’s not that easy for everyone.
“We have people that have been here for over 30 years waiting. And people say oh why don’t you stand in line. Well, it’s not that easy. It isn’t that easy. But if you have a million dollars maybe you can," said Roma.
Roma says when her local sheriff signed the 287 G delegation from ICE, agreeing to work with and receive authority for immigration enforcement it affected her.
“It affected me because I knew the pain and the misunderstanding and the feat that everyone was going to have and you know your privileged because you don’t have to be afraid you don’t even know what that is or have any idea what it is but my people know what it is," said Roma.
But Beltran says locals working with ICE is just a way to avoid what he says is disruptive.
“This is really an alternative to having ICE go to worksite go to communities and try to find undocumented folks. That would be very disruptive that would have a lot of problems," said Beltran.
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola) is worried about the fiscal impact on local governments.
“My only concern I have with the bill has to do with the enforcement section where if an agency or entity is not complying they are subject to a fine of $1,000 up to $5,000 dollars each day. My only concern with that is any agency or entity the only funding they receive is from tax payers. So if some agency or entity is being obstinate and that fine grows to a very large number and they have to pay it. Eventually they’re going to go to the tax payers to get it back," said Hill.
But those who cooperate also see a large fiscal impact according to Tomas Kennedy a political director with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
"Under a period of 10 months Miami Dade actually spent between 13 and 14 million dollars honoring these detainer request," said Kennedy
Lawmakers in the committee passed the bill on a 10 to 3 vote with Democrats all voting against.
A companion bill in the Senate is in its last committee stop before making it to the floor.