The Scrutiny of Sanctuary

Under The Hood


It continues to amaze me how focused Sarasota politics can get on immigration. In a largely homogenous community with extraordinary wealth, it’s hard to imagine many people worry their jobs will be taken because of border crossings on the other side of the Gulf of Mexico.

But in the era of President Trump, strict immigration policy has become a bedrock Republican principle. And state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, has made a ban on “Sanctuary Cities” his top legislative priority of the year. It’s also a high enough priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis to warrant mention in his first State of the State address, so expect the bill to get as much outside-the-region attention as any our local lawmakers file the year.

The biggest argument posed against the legislation centers on whether Sanctuary Cities exist in Florida at all. That’s really a semantic issue. The loaded term means different things to people. No municipalities in Florida now embrace the label the way as some major cities like New York have done. But the Center for Immigration Studies counts Clay County and Alachua County as jurisdictions that won’t honor detainers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement except under court order. Miami-Dade County for five years proudly boasted it would not honor ICE detainers past 48 hours, though it never celebrated the “sanctuary” name, and has since run from the policy entirely.

Gruters’ Sanctuary Cities bill primarily requires cooperation. In fact, it would make every jurisdiction follow the lead of Sarasota County and develop an agreement with ICE for full compliance with detainers. That’s something only 29 of Florida’s 67 counties have in place today.

To be clear, there’s not been an issue in Florida with cities actively impeding ICE agents from doing their jobs. But Gruters’ proposal will expect a different level of cooperation than exists in much of Florida today.

As the legislation has been debated in Tallahassee, language aimed at punishing officials tempted to go full sanctuary route disappeared from the bill. The biggest questions now center on financial burden for localities. How long must jails hold undocumented immigrants? Things have settled around two days, an amount the federal government will (eventually) reimburse.

The bill seems a sure shot at passage within the GOP-controlled legislature, and largely makes clear law enforcement and corrections departments can’t obstruct the work of federal immigration officials. Those jurisdictions with no taste for holding an alien with no valid drivers license indefinitely seem most concerned about the cost of doing ICE’s work for them. Most likely, those concerns will be fully addressed before a bill becomes law.

That leaves local authorities merely enforcing state and local law, then housing individuals for a couple days if ICE takes an interest. Put in those terms, one might wonder what all the fuss is about.

But this legislation means more symbolically than from a policy perspective. One might wonder why a requirement for police agencies to cooperate with one another would inspire the Florida Democratic Party to label the bill as “anti-immigrant status.” Or why Republicans want so badly to stop anyone from adopting a moniker with which literally no jurisdiction in Florida wants to be saddled.

A ban on Sanctuary Cities ultimately broadcasts the state’s broader position on national issues. Do we value rule of law? Are we the welcoming environment Visit Florida advertises? Do we hate and fear other cultures? Will we protect our citizenry?

All that has more to do with base political values than the particulars of law enforcement practices. But that’s why Florida’s loudest political voices have so much to say.

Jacob Ogles is senior contributing editor for SRQ Media Group.

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