Immigrants protest sanctuary cities bills at Florida Capitol

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Immigrant rights advocates marched on the state capitol Wednesday, railing against Republican bills to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities that could stand a strong chance of passing given the Trump administration's tough-on-immigration initiatives.

  • Immigrants protested a pair of bills in Tallahassee cracking down on sanctuary cities 
  • The bills fine cities and counties for refusing to arrest undocumented immigrants

The measures (HB 697/SB 786) would fine cities and counties up to $5,000 per day for refusing to arrest undocumented immigrants subject to federal deportation orders. Similar legislation passed the House last year but failed to gain traction in the more moderate Senate.

The activists at Wednesday's rally, however, acknowledged that November's election has caused the political pendulum to swing toward immigration hard-liners, led by President Trump. With the ideological makeup of the 40-member Senate changing as well, a sanctuary cities crackdown now faces improved prospects in the upper chamber.

"We're here to make sure that they are listening," said Pamela Gomez of Tampa, whose parents are undocumented. "That our stories are not the scapegoats to their political games, that they understand that it's not right to tear children from their parents, that it's not right that the farm working, the working families that make up your community, that put food on your table, take care of your children -- those are the targets of these hateful bills."

The legislation's supporters are couching it as a critical tool in compelling local governments to enforce federal immigration laws. Echoing the president, they point to instances of heinous crimes perpetrated by undocumented immigrants living in sanctuary cities.

"Where was the sanctuary for all of the other Americans who have been so brutally murdered and who have suffered so, so horribly?" Trump asked a sympathetic crowd at last year's Republican National Convention.

But critics argue the bills amount to a xenophobic overreaction to a problem that largely doesn't exist.

"We see already that our families are targeted, that given the rise of the hate and the rhetoric with the Trump administration, families are more vulnerable to these attacks," Gomez said.