Pushing a hard-line immigration stance that endeared him to conservative voters, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday called on lawmakers to pass a controversial measure to ban so-called sanctuary cities during the legislative session that begins next week.
The Republican governor also urged Florida sheriffs to join a handful of their colleagues participating in a federal immigration enforcement program in which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, deputizes local law officials.
In addition, DeSantis instructed the state’s prisons chief, Mark Inch, to come up with a way the state Department of Corrections can also participate in the federal program, which allows state and local law enforcement officials to investigate, apprehend, detain and transport undocumented immigrants facing deportation. The program is known as the 287(g) program.
Shortly after taking office in 2017, President Donald Trump — an ally of DeSantis — ordered an expansion of the 287(g) program, which has since rapidly grown in parts of the country.
DeSantis, who made a crackdown on illegal immigration one of his campaign cornerstones and highlighted the issue in his inaugural address last month, made the announcements Tuesday during a news conference at Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis’ office in Brooksville.
Authorities in Hernando, Clay, Collier and Pasco counties, as well as the city of Jacksonville, are participating in the 287(g) program, which is widely criticized by civil-rights groups who contend it can lead to racial profiling and dissuade immigrants from reporting crimes.
DeSantis called on the state’s sheriffs to enter into agreements with federal authorities similar to the memorandum that allows Nienhuis’ office to train and authorize personnel to identify and process undocumented immigrants.
“What they’re doing is something that is very sensible. They are not transforming their sheriff’s departments into an immigration agency,” DeSantis said. “They have a lot of fish to fry. They’re going to be dealing with the typical criminal activity that we see on a daily basis. They’re going to do things to maintain good order here.”
The governor said he wants the state corrections department to enter a similar agreement with ICE.
“Right now, we have over 4,500 criminal aliens in the Florida prison system. I think those individuals, when their sentences are over, need to be immediately turned over to ICE so they can be repatriated back to their country,” DeSantis said.
“I do not want a situation where they’re in our prison system, we know they’re illegal here, or maybe we don’t know it, but they’re here illegally, and then they end up released back into society,” he continued. “That’s just not going to cut it.”
But American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Executive Director Micah Kubic called 287(g) programs a “dangerous tool” that “transform law enforcement into immigration agents at significant local cost and promote illegal racial profiling as well as other civil-rights abuses.”
The programs also “divert limited resources” from local law enforcement, Kubic said.
“Immigration enforcement is the job of the federal government, not state and local personnel and law enforcement,” Kubic said.
The governor also used Tuesday’s event, where he was joined by state Sen. Wilton Simpson, to show support for legislation (HB 527, SB 168) intended to ensure local governments in Florida fully comply with requests from federal immigration authorities.
The presence of Simpson, a Trilby Republican slated to take over as Senate president after the 2020 elections, demonstrated that the ban on so-called sanctuary cities has greater momentum this year than in the past, when similar proposals have stalled in the Senate.
But when asked about DeSantis’ Tuesday announcement, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, told The News Service of Florida there are no local governments in the state “that are out of compliance with sharing information with ICE,” according to a staff analysis.
The Senate’s sanctuary city ban is being sponsored by Joe Gruters, a Sarasota senator who doubles as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Gruters has made the proposal a top priority going into the annual legislative session, which starts March 5.
To help it pass this year, Gruters agreed to make the measure “more palatable” to some lawmakers by stripping a provision that would have penalized local officials who favor sanctuary cities.
Rodriguez accused DeSantis and other Republicans of using the immigration issue to stoke fear and deliver on campaign promises.
“We ought to be tackling the problems of racial profiling and divisions in our community and not making it worse,” Rodriguez said.
And he said 287(g) programs are dangerous because people who are in the country legally might not seek assistance from law enforcement if they have someone living with them who is undocumented.
“I want that person to call the cops if they see a burglar. I don’t want that person to say, I’d love to call the cops, but they’re afraid to because they’re afraid one of their loved ones is going to get deported because they don’t have papers. It’s not a made-up problem. This has actually happened,” Rodriguez said.
Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Peñalosa also blasted the governor’s call for a ban on sanctuary cities.
“DeSantis’ proposal will only create fear in immigrant communities, undermine our state’s proud diversity, increase racial profiling, raise costs for taxpayers, and sets a terrible precedent in our state,” he said in a statement.