The Florida House opened debate Tuesday on a hotly contested Republican bill requiring local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and banning so-called "sanctuary city" policies aimed at shielding immigrants who are arrested.
The GOP-dominated House turned back several Democratic amendments intended to weaken the measure or carve out exceptions such as refugees, with a final vote expected as early as Wednesday. A similar bill is pending in the state Senate.
The bill would force local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal authorities who enforce immigration laws for people who are arrested or detained, mainly U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.
The House sponsor, Republican Rep. Cord Byrd of Jacksonville Beach, said the intent is to prohibit "sanctuary policies" that some local agencies use to protect illegal immigrants from federal authorities. Florida does not currently have any "sanctuary cities" that exist in other states. The bill also would require local authorities to honor immigration detainer requests from ICE or other federal agencies that can lead to a person's deportation after an arrest.
"If you find yourself in custody, federal immigration authorities will be contacted and at that time a determination will be made about whether federal immigration authorities have further interest in you," Byrd said. "We are trying to get people who are potentially dangerous in our communities out of our communities."
In addition to mandating cooperation with federal authorities, the bill would permit local officials who allow sanctuary city policies to be suspended or removed from office, and permit fines up to $5,000 a day for violations.
Similar legislation passed the House last year, but the Senate version did not get a floor vote. This year the measure appears to have enough momentum for final passage in both chambers.
The bill has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to warn immigrants against traveling to Florida and triggered protests around the state, including one Tuesday at the Capitol. Several dozen people carried signs such as "No Human Being Is Illegal" and "Undocumented, Unafraid" followed by chants of "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here."
"This bill will increase deportations across the board," said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Winter Park Democrat. "We can't be the judge and jury in one fell swoop and say that person must leave."
Byrd, however, said the bill's intent is not to force local law enforcement agencies to adopt federal immigration powers or conduct dragnets to catch undocumented immigrants.
"No one is requiring law enforcement officers to go out and ask people for their papers," Byrd said.