OPINION: In February, Senator David Gruters introduced SB 168, a dangerous piece of anti-immigrant legislation that will break up families and hurt our communities. As this bill advances through the state senate, we find ourselves at a crossroads. Will Florida be a place where families feel safe and law enforcement is equipped to protect and serve every individual in our communities? Or will a handful of misguided legislators in Tallahassee damage our communities and our economy, all without creating a single new job?
The choice should be crystal clear, and I’m grateful that some of our state's elected officials have already taken a stand against this alarming legislation, including my law school classmate and friend, the courageous Senator Anitere Flores.
Senator Flores has consistently demonstrated that she is a strong, independent voice who puts her constituents ahead of partisan politics. In 2018, when a bill with similar aims came to the floor, Senator Flores took a stand for her district and opposed the legislation. I am proud of her leadership and courage.
SB 168, the legislation currently under consideration, would be even worse for Florida families and businesses than the bill that Senator Flores helped to defeat last year. It would hurt communities across our state, and it is truly a solution in search of a problem: “sanctuary cities” do not even exist in Florida. SB 168 will hurt public safety and limit law enforcement's effectiveness, by trying to tell hardworking men and women in law enforcement that Tallahassee knows better than they do how to work best in their communities. It is flatly the wrong approach.
Requiring local law enforcement to carry out federal immigration law as a de facto extension of ICE makes clear that immigration enforcement takes precedence over focusing on the safety of local communities that local law enforcement are meant - and resourced - to serve. This bill fails to equip local law enforcement with the means to carry out their newly expanded responsibilities. It does not allocate additional funding for municipalities to assist with the cost of executing federal priorities. This means that expenses will be taken from local law enforcement’s already limited budgets, leaving even fewer resources for their primary job of serving and protecting local communities. We should all be worried about the toll that these greatly diminished resources will take on community safety.
Additionally, much of local law enforcement’s effectiveness relies on the crucial relationships that they foster within their communities over time. Without public trust, law enforcement’s job is immeasurably more difficult, resulting in communities becoming less safe, and those living there feeling less protected. Florida can learn from the painful reality that other states and cities which have passed similar anti-sanctuary city legislation have experienced: a serious decline in the reporting of violent crimes and a disintegrating of community trust. Houston Texas, for example, found that the reporting of violent crimes like assault, rape, and even murder declined significantly once law enforcement was tasked with enforcing federal immigration law - the city recognized a staggering drop in deporting of nearlynearly 43%in reports of rape, and a 13% drop in report of violent crime overall.
Many crime victims, particularly in the Hispanic community, declined to report what they had experienced out of fear of deportation and a broader fear of being targeted due to anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies becoming more pervasive in our communities. When doing ICE’s job instead of being able to do their own is the priority, critical community trust between immigrant residents and law enforcement vanishes. And when residents are afraid to come forward to report, cooperate with law enforcement or testify in court, dangerous criminals go free. That makes everyone - immigrants and citizens alike - less safe.
We are grateful for Senator Flores’ continuing courage and leadership. When SB 168 comes to the floor, I hope she will display her trademark bravery and leadership by opposing this harmful bill, and rejecting the fear and divisiveness that some legislators are trying to sow into the fabric of our communities and those who protect them.
Florida Organizing Director of FWD.us. FWD.us is a bipartisan team of political campaigners spanning the fields of policy, advocacy, and technology working to create a stronger America founded by tech giants such as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.