By Gary Fineout
TALLAHASSEE | After a rancorous debate that included sharp criticism of President Donald Trump’s comments about certain countries, the Florida House on Friday passed a contentious bill designed to crack down on cities and counties that don’t comply with federal immigration authorities.
This is the third year in a row that the Republican-controlled House has passed a bill aimed at so-called sanctuary cities. The measure has yet to move in the Florida Senate, but the GOP head of that chamber suggested it may be considered.
The House vote was 71-35 and split along party lines with Republicans such as House Speaker Richard Corcoran saying it was needed to go after “rogue” elected officials who decide to ignore federal immigration laws. Democrats contended the measure would result in racial profiling and they seized on Trump’s comments to assert that the debate about immigration was charged with racial overtones.
During a private meeting, Trump used vulgar language about why the U.S. should be accepting more immigrants from Haiti and African nations than from countries like Norway.
“His words reflect an attitude toward countries with black and brown people that is simply racist,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, a Democrat from Tampa.
While Rep. Joe Gruters defended the president and said that “President Trump loves all people,” other Republicans said they didn’t agree with his comments.
“I do not share those sentiments. I do not support them, they are out of bounds,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican from Naples. “This bill is about following federal immigration law, not the whims of a president.”
The measure (HB 9) would strictly ban “sanctuary city” policies and penalize local officials for upholding them. A handful of Florida counties have been criticized for being non-cooperative with federal immigration authorities.
The legislation also requires local police to check on someone’s legal status within 48 hours if they do not have proof of citizenship.
Democrats asserted that GOP leaders were pushing the bill to aid Corcoran’s expected campaign for governor. But Rep. Larry Metz, the central Florida Republican and sponsor of the bill, said he filed the bill in response to a 2015 incident in San Francisco in which a woman was fatally shot by a Mexican immigrant. The suspect had been released earlier that year by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, despite a request by federal immigration authorities to detain him. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder, but is awaiting trial on federal gun charges.
“Federal immigration law should be enforced and we should be a partner in that enforcement effort,” Metz said.
It’s still not clear if the Florida Senate will go along with the legislation. Senate President Joe Negron said that the bill may get a hearing, but Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson said it wasn’t something “that’s been put on my radar screen yet.”