Today, both Democratic and Republican Florida state legislators joined leaders from the faith and civil rights communities in speaking out against proposed anti-immigrant legislation in Florida, calling the measure “sad,” “not right for Florida,” and “a violation of civil rights.” The bill, introduced this month by Florida Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate, Bill McCollum, goes beyond existing state law and would require law enforcement to check the immigration status of a suspected illegal immigrant when stopped during a violation. The bill, drafted with state Rep. WillSnyder, also allows judges to consider immigration status during bond setting and sentencing and requires Florida businesses to check their workers’ immigration status. McCollum’s immigration bill also requires immigrants to carry identification or face up to 20 days in jail. According to McCollum, Florida’s bill “offers more teeth” and goes “one step beyond” Arizona’s law, after which Florida’s bill was modeled.
Even after the a federal judge enjoined the most controversial provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070, McCollum claims the proposed immigration bill clarifies “reasonable suspicion” and is strengthened against “potential constitution challenges.” “I think Arizona is going to want this law,” McCollum said.
But reently on a telephonic press conference organized by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, both Democratic and Republican Florida legislators—as well as faith and civil rights leaders—united in speaking out against the bill. State Rep. Jan Carlos Zapata, a Republican and member of the Florida Legislature Hispanic Caucus, said that immigration law should be handled by the federal government, not the state, and that there is a big difference between border security issues and immigration at large:
This bill is not right for Florida. This is a federal action and we should leave it as such. But we also need to keep pressure on the federal government to do just that. It’s also important to differentiate between border security issues and immigration. Unfortunately, harmful rhetoric has tied them into one. Arizona has faced drug gangs and violence along the border and their legislators have reacted to that. In Florida, we don’t have that problem. That issue shouldn’t be applied to Florida. It’s unfortunate that people are trying to take advantage of the emotional aspects of this issue.
State Rep. Gary Siplin, a Democrat, raised concerns over an anti-immigration bill’s negative impact on tourism, one of the largest economic drivers of Florida’s economy.
Our initial concern is the economic impact this legislation would have on our tourism. Haitians, Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans are concerned about their presence in America. And as always, we’re concerned about the civil rights of every American, even immigrants. We need to protect the civil rights of our citizens and our economy.
Mike Pheneger, a retired US Army Colonel and Board Chair of ACLU of Florida, called the law unconstitutional and promised a legal challenge to the proposed law if passed.
This bill is unconstitutional and unnecessary. It panders to our fears and worse instincts as a people. This bill violates the rights of people in Florida without documentation. The Constitution protects all people, not just citizens.
And in a recession, this bill will burden our state budget with legal fees. This bill violates equal protects and free speech of all people in US and Florida. The ACLU is prepared to take immediate legal action to enjoin enforcement until the courts have had a chance to rule.
Rev. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of the Florida Council of Churches, also pointed out that Florida’s proposed immigration law would make it “criminal behavior to help someone in need.”
The bipartisan opposition to Florida’s proposed anti-immigrant legislation is a rare example of those who actually prioritize policy over politics, that is, want real solutions to our immigration problems—federal solutions, as Republican state Rep. Jan Carlos Zapata pointed out—instead of more fodder for political platforms. Aside from draining an already dragging state economy, McCollum’s draconian immigration legislation clearly indicates that he cares more about immigration as a wedge issue than fixing a system so desperately in need of repair.