The Florida House passed a high-profile Republican bill Wednesday requiring local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and banning so-called "sanctuary city" policies that shield immigrants who are arrested.
After hours of debate over two days, the GOP-led House voted 69-47 largely along party lines for the measure, sending it over to the Senate where a similar bill is pending.
Florida doesn't currently have any formal "sanctuary cities" like those in other states. The bill sponsored by GOP Rep. Cord Byrd of Jacksonville Beach would ban those policies and require local authorities to honor detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that can lead to a person's deportation.
Byrd and other Republicans cast it as a law-and-order measure that is aimed at generating respect for U.S. immigration laws.
"We welcome you. But we ask one simple thing: we ask that you follow our laws and our rules," Byrd said.
The bill prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to warn immigrants against traveling to Florida because of detention risks and triggered protests around the state. Democrats failed in attempts to weaken the bill or create exceptions, accusing GOP sponsors of persecuting immigrants for political gain in an era when President Donald Trump has made an immigration crackdown a cornerstone of his administration.
Many Democrats, such as Rep. Dotie Joseph of North Miami, quoted passages from the Bible about how to treat foreigners and welcome immigrants.
"We are taught to love the foreigner in our land. We're not supposed to mistreat or oppress the foreigner among us," said Joseph, who is Haitian American.
"Immigrants do not come here to terrorize or to make this place a horrible place. They come here because this is the land of opportunity," added Anika Omphroy, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat who has Haitian and Jamaican ancestry.
But Republicans rejected criticism that the bill is anti-immigrant and xenophobic.
"This bill is not about removing illegals from the state of Florida. This bill is about protecting the citizens in the state of Florida," said Rep. Michael Caruso, a Boca Raton Republican.
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.