TALLAHASSEE — Hundreds of people from around Florida arrived at the Capitol this week to protest several measures they say discriminate against immigrants who make up the backbone of the state’s tourism and agricultural industries.
The bills, which create tougher deportation penalties, prohibit cities from creating sanctuaries for immigrants and require local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officials to round up undocumented workers, were filed in response to a perceived failure of the federal government to enforce immigration laws.
“We, as a community, are interested in looking at what is happening here,” said Ana Lamb, a U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, explaining why she rode a bus from Tampa to Tallahassee on Tuesday. “We are here to defend the families who have been living here for years. We are Florida. We are part of this community.”
Lamb, a mother of four and a breast-feeding counselor, said she talks to women every day who are afraid of being deported and separated from their families.
“We have friends and family members who need this help. Every day I talk to people in need of this help. They are in our churches. They are in our communities.”
These people cook meals, clean houses, watch children, mow lawns, build roads and construct houses. “All legislators benefit from them, and they are not recognizing that,” Lamb said.
“I think kids need a say in all this,” said Carla Duarte, a Tampa 13-year-old who traveled by bus with her mother, who is not documented.
“It’s very bad, parents being deported because they have no papers,” Duarte said. “If my mother was deported I’d be in the foster system, wishing for my mom to come back. It would be a bad life.”
The bus mobilization was coordinated by the Florida Immigrant Coalition to draw attention to five pieces of legislation they say are harmful to undocumented immigrants, many of whom work in restaurants and fields.
They bused in about 400 people Tuesday and Wednesday to protest.
“We’re going to be seen as a show-me your papers state,” said Francesca Menes, policy director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Florida is criminalizing the immigrant community.”
They sat in on committee hearings, demonstrated in the Capitol Rotunda, and tried unsuccessfully to meet with Attorney General Pam Bondi about a federal injunction of President Obama’s executive amnesty of the illegal parents of U.S. Citizens from deportation. Bondi supports the injunction.
They also came in support of one bill, HB89 filed by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and SB 284 by Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, to expand Florida Kidcare health coverage to nearly 23,000 children of legal immigrants without having to wait five years. The House version was reported favorably by the House Health innovation Subcommittee on Wednesday.
About 40 or so spoke against a bill that had a hearing Wednesday before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. The bill, HB 675, would prohibit cities and counties from passing local laws to create safe havens or “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, force local law enforcement to comply with federal detainer requests, and authorize the Attorney General to sue cities and fine them up to $5,000 a day for not enforcing those policies.
“I am a United States veteran and when I came home to see my community disheveled and people being deported it broke my heart,” said Tiffany Thompson.
With the help of a translator, Sergio Maldonado explained how he left Guatemala as a teen 17 years ago to escape violence and poverty. “Stop separating our families,” Maldonado said.
The bill is also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO, and the Miami-Dade Commission.
Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, the bill’s sponsor said, he is not trying to “supplant federal law” but force the cooperation of communities that refuse to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and even work against enforcement of immigration laws.
“It’s about the rule of law,” Metz said during the committee hearing. “It’s not about any community going to be harmed. We are upholding the rule of law as a fundamental principle of our republican form of government.”
Metz said he appreciated the “pull on the heart strings” testimony he heard and would take it under consideration. “But it comes down to the overarching policy of immigration law.”
Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said he agreed with following the rule of law, but had concerns about a provision waiving sovereign immunity that could leave local law enforcement subject to civil lawsuits that could run into the millions of dollars.
But he also said it was an important issue worthy of discussion, and voted to move the bill along so it could continue to be debated.
“We should be enforcing the laws on the books,” said Rep. George Moraitis Jr., R-Fort Lauderdale.
But Democrats said they had serious concerns that the bill would expose law enforcement agencies to federal civil laws, violate due process and the Fourth Amendment, and rip communities apart.
“This bill on so many levels questions our very core,” said Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, ranking Democrat on the committee. “This is a land of immigrants, and no one immigrant should be placed above another immigrant.”
The committee voted 9-4 in favor of the bill, along party lines.
While they were waiting for the bill to come before the committee, Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, led a group of parents and children to Bondi’s office on the first floor of the Capitol to try to speak with the Attorney General.
The Supreme Court on Friday could decide whether to take up an appeal of a lower court’s injunction of the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability amnesty program for the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. Obama signed the executive action in November 2014, but a federal judge issued an injunction last February after Texas and 25 states filed suit.
The case could affect whether 5 million people nationwide, and about 900,000 people in Florida would have access to work permits and social security cards.
“Bondi gratuitously added Florida to the case,” Rodriguez said. “This is harmful to Florida and the immigrant community and hurts the backbone of the state’s economy, the tourism and agriculture industries.”
Another piece of legislation that has gained attention among immigrant communities is the so-called “Prevention of Acts of War” bill, HB1095 by Rep. Lake Ray, R-Jacksonville, and SB 1712 by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.
It would prohibit the state and local governments and any agencies and employees that receive state funds from helping resettle “certain foreign refugees and immigrants,” and require the personal identification of refugees receiving resettlement assistance to the Department of Law Enforcement.
“This is Donald Trump’s watch list coming to action,” said Laila Abdelaziz, who is herself a Palestinian refugee and the government affairs director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida.
The bill is an attempt to invoke states’ rights and give Gov. Rick Scott authority he currently doesn’t have, Abdelaziz said, and is similar to legislation being pushed in about 30 other red states whose governors have said they would not accept Syrian refugees.
“It’s very dangerous because if you isolate refugees you are creating an environment for anyone to become radicalized,” Abdelaziz said.
HOW TO SOUND OFF: HB 675/SB 872 the “Federal Immigration Enforcement” bill would require state and local governments to cooperate with the ICE detainer requests and prohibits cities and counties from creating refugee sanctuaries.
Sponsors are Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, (352) 989-9134, email@example.com, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, (904) 346-5039 firstname.lastname@example.org
HB 89/SB 248 would extend Florida Kidcare health coverage to 23,000 children of legal immigrants. Its sponsors are Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, (305) 442-6800 email@example.com, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. (305) 364-3100 firstname.lastname@example.org.
To find and contact your own senator or representative, visit www.leg.state.fl.us. You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.