By Thomas Kennedy
Early in 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening to rescind federal funds from local municipalities that refuse to criminalize immigrant communities. The executive order has suffered numerous legal setbacks since then, the most recent being a decision by a federal judge in California ruling it unconstitutional and issuing a permanent injunction, effectively blocking it.
Despite this, some lawmakers in Florida are attempting to pass dangerous legislation that threatens the wellbeing of immigrant families.
House Bill 9 (HB9) has been introduced by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and has so far been fast tracked through committee. The current Florida House of Representatives website currently has an ominous looking banner in its homepage, with information both about the bill and so called “sanctuary cities,” in what I interpret as a scare tactic.
Anti-immigrant legislation in Florida is not new. Immigration advocacy groups have been fighting against dangerous bills like HB9 for years, most memorably in 2011 when the state capitol in Tallahassee was flooded by activists from the Florida Immigrant Coalition who were taking part in a We Are Florida campaign and were able to stop an Arizona style “Show me your papers” law. Advocates have spent almost every legislative session since then fighting against the criminalization of immigrant families.
The upcoming gubernatorial race, and especially the contested primary on the Republican side, is contributing to the urgency lawmakers seem to be feeling in Florida regarding anti-immigrant efforts. The Republican candidates seem to be in a competition to outdo each other in terms of who is the best adherent of Trumpism.
Perceived frontrunner Adam Putnam has downplayed support for legislation he once co-sponsored that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to work in the United States and receive a pathway to legal residency.
Rep. Ron Desantis, who has won Trump’s endorsement, had this to say after Trump rescinded DACA, the executive order granting protection from deportation to thousands of undocumented students: “When he did it, how the media has reacted, how most politicians – Democrats and even a lot of Republicans – react; the sole focus is on what can Congress do to benefit an illegal immigrant?”
But the current bill before Florida lawmakers takes anti-immigrant bias to new heights. The bill would discourage immigrants who are victims of a crime from cooperating with law enforcement agencies, would criminalize immigrant parents of U.S. citizens in Florida and would infringe on the power of local municipalities from enacting policies that would serve the best interests of their residents.
In an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times, Corcoran said, “Our bill is simple: State and local governments must comply with and support the enforcement of federal immigration laws — end of story. Any elected officials who thinks they can circumvent the Constitution and the laws of our nation will face significant penalties, along with suspension or removal from office.”
That is perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the proposed law, it will leave elected officials who do not support the criminalization and deportation of immigrant families vulnerable to being removed from office. That is simply not in the spirit of American democracy, and would create a dangerous slippery slope in which authoritarians could use similar laws to silence their opposition. It simply cannot be allowed to happen.
HB9 cannot be allowed to pass by the Florida Legislature. It would make our communities less safe by eroding the trust between the public and law enforcement, would lead to the racial profiling and discrimination of immigrant communities, and would cost Florida residents thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars. Furthermore, studies have repeatedly found that municipalities and counties with sanctuary or welcoming policies are safer and have better economies than those without.
In the past, bipartisan efforts by both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida Senate have defeated these anti-immigrant bills. Considering the current moment, we need state lawmakers to step up and do right by the most vulnerable communities in the state of Florida.
Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change.