The Florida Legislature sent Gov. Ron DeSantis a high-profile Republican bill on Thursday banning sanctuary policies that protect undocumented immigrants and requiring law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
The bill passed the House on a 68-45 vote with Democrats opposed, shortly after it cleared the Senate by a 22-18 mostly party-line vote. DeSantis supports the measure and will sign it into law.
"We are a stronger state when we protect our residents, foster safe communities and respect the work of law enforcement at every level," DeSantis said in a statement.
The legislation would require local officials to honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers for undocumented immigrants who are arrested or convicted of a crime, exempting crime victims and witnesses. It would ban local governments from enacting sanctuary policies to protect those immigrants from deportation and require them to notify ICE when an inmate subject to a detainer is released.
"This is about making sure local governments cooperate with federal immigration authorities," said GOP Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, the main Senate sponsor who is also chairman of the state Republican Party. "This is about doing the right thing for Florida."
No Florida city or county currently has a sanctuary policy. But Republicans said it would ensure respect for federal immigration laws by preventing local and state officials from refusing to comply. Under the bill, the governor could suspend officials who defy immigration laws and they could be sued by the attorney general to force compliance.
"This bill is simply requiring and reaffirming that our state is choosing to follow the laws, the regulations and the rules. Not just some of them. All of them," said Rep. Toby Overdorf, a Stuart Republican.
Opponents warn it could discourage people from visiting Florida, separate families and harm business interests such as agriculture that in many cases depend on immigrant workers, including those who are undocumented.
Beyond that, Democrats called the measure mean-spirited, unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional. They also said it could lead to deportations of Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans to countries the administration of President Donald Trump claims are despotic.
"We really, truly believe this is going to transform our state for the worse," said Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Winter Park. "We may look back on this day and regret what we're going to do."
Added Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami: "No one seems to be clamoring for this."
The bill was one of the most hotly-contested of this legislative session, with several versions bouncing between the House and Senate over the past two months. One provision that was stripped out would have subjected officials who defy immigration laws to steep fines. Another section that was dropped would have exempted the Department of Children and Families from its requirements.
It sparked protests around the state and led the American Civil Liberties Union to warn immigrants against traveling to Florida. It also is expected to lead to lawsuits seeking to nullify it.
"This fight isn't over. It's going to continue in the courts. I promise you that," said Rep. Evan Jenne, a Hollywood Democrat.