TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — After a debate that focused heavily on unaccompanied children, House Republicans continued moving forward Thursday with an effort to bolster immigration enforcement — a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The House State Affairs Committee voted 15-8 along straight party lines to approve a bill that would target transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants into Florida and expand a 2019 law that sought to ban so-called "sanctuary cities."
Echoing DeSantis, Republican supporters of the bill (HB 1355) blasted federal immigration policies.
"To put it bluntly, I think what this bill is trying to do is stop the federal government from conducting a human trafficking operation," sponsor John Snyder, R-Stuart, said. "We've seen multiple incidences where chartered flights or buses are sending individuals into communities in the dark of night without any collaboration with local or state governments."
But the proposal, along with moves by DeSantis and the Florida Department of Children and Families, has spurred heavy criticism from Democratic lawmakers and religious leaders who say unaccompanied immigrant children will be harmed.
DeSantis directed the department to stop issuing or renewing licenses to providers that shelter unaccompanied children and the agency released a proposed rule this month to carry out the order. Meanwhile, the bill would prevent the state and local governments from doing business with transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants to the state.
"The bill is intentionally crafted to work in tandem with Gov. DeSantis' executive order, which prohibits and allows for DCF to prohibit some of these faith-based and non-profit organizations to offer shelter and housing and fostering for unaccompanied youth. … And when you combine that policy with this bill, you're blocking them from coming to Florida and blocking them from being sheltered," Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, said. "That is the net outcome of this bill, taken in tandem with Gov. DeSantis' recent executive action."
But Snyder said the bill is not intended to target children and that the state can't prevent companies from transporting undocumented immigrants for the federal government. He said lawmakers can only prevent the state and local governments from doing business with those companies.
"I believe what's happening here is a number of groups have conflated the governor's executive order with the piece of legislation in front of us here today, which are two totally separate issues," Snyder said. "This bill does provide statutory language to enforce the transportation component of the governor's executive order, but nothing in this bill touches licensing, nothing in this bill touches the ability for those groups to provide care for those children."
In addition to the transportation issue, the bill would expand the 2019 sanctuary cities law by preventing local governments from blocking law-enforcement agencies from sharing information with the state about the immigration status of people in custody.
The 2019 law was designed to spur local law-enforcement agencies to fully comply with federal immigration detainers and share information with immigration authorities after undocumented immigrants are in custody.
But U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom in September ruled that two parts of the sanctuary-cities law violated constitutional due-process rights — a ruling the state has appealed. Bloom pointed to what she described as an "immigrant threat narrative" that helped lead to the law.
Also, the House bill would require counties to enter agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in a program in which local law enforcement officers help in immigration enforcement. A House staff analysis said 47 Florida counties and the state Department of Corrections already have such agreements.
The House bill needs approval from the Judiciary Committee before it could go to the full House. The Senate Appropriations Committee is slated Monday to take up an identical bill (SB 1808).
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