TALLAHASSEE — With reported comments by President Donald Trump inflaming an already-raw immigration debate, the deeply divided Florida House on Friday passed a proposal to ban “sanctuary cities’ in the state.
The 71-35 vote by the Republican-dominated House came after two days of debate, with GOP supporters pointing to a need to uphold the “rule of law” and Democratic critics contending the bill (HB 9) is unconstitutional and could lead to racial profiling.
The debate took on another element Friday, after widespread reports that Trump questioned why the United States should accept immigrants from “s---hole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and countries in Africa.
House Democrats linked the sanctuary-city bill to Trump and his reported comments.
“HB 9 is President Trump’s immigration policy wrapped up into one bill, without a wall and without a Muslim ban,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando.
Republicans, however, repeatedly returned to the idea that Florida should uphold the rule of law and drew a distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration.
Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, said Trump’s statements were “out of bounds,” but he said the bill is about following federal immigration law.
“The one thing that must remain consistent is the rule of law,” Donalds said.
Trump’s reported comment caused such an uproar that House Republican and Democratic leaders issued a rare joint statement condemning it.
“If the remarks attributed to President Trump are accurate, they have no place in our public discourse,” the statement said. “America’s greatness is self-evident, we do not need to tear down other nations. The leadership of the Florida House celebrates our diversity."
In an early morning tweet Friday, Trump denied making the remarks but did not specify what he said at the meeting centered on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era policy that focused on children who are brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents or guardians.
"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!" Trump tweeted.
The House bill passed Friday would require local governments and universities to comply with federal immigration laws and would impose stiff penalties on those that declare themselves sanctuaries from immigration enforcement.
Under the measure — dubbed the "Rule of Law Adherence Act" — state or local governmental entities or law enforcement agencies would be fined up to $5,000 for each day they are deemed out of compliance. The bill would require complying with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests and repealing current sanctuary policies.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has made the issue one of his priorities of the 2018 legislative session, which started Tuesday. But even with passage by the House, it remains questionable whether the bill will get through the Senate, which has refused to go along with similar proposals in recent years.
“No one is above the law, and now if a politician or government official tries to ignore America’s immigration laws, they will be punished,” Corcoran said in a statement after Friday’s vote.
The bill, however, drew impassioned debate Thursday and Friday on the House floor. Democrats, in part, contended that Republicans were using the bill as a political ploy to fire up the GOP base in an election year.
“The world is watching,” Rep. Al Jacquet, D-Lantana, said. “They are watching us. Do we embrace diversity, or do we just embrace some and not others?”
But Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is running for attorney general, said lawmakers swore an oath to uphold the state and federal constitutions.
“Do your duty. Uphold the rule of law, and eliminate sanctuary cities in Florida,” Fant said.