By Vania Andre

A group of Republican lawmakers introduced a series of bills on Nov. 17 in Florida’s state legislature that would enforce federal immigration laws on the local level, and crack down on cities and counties that provide “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.

The term sanctuary city has been designated to local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws and are considered “safe harbors” for undocumented immigrants.

House Bill 675, introduced by Rep. Larry Metz, would allow the attorney general and state attorneys to take action against local governments, including civil penalties of up to $5,000 daily for cities that do not enforce federal immigration policies, possibly increasing the number of immigrants detained and deported.

Several counties, including Miami-Dade have approved local ordinances to stop collaborating with immigration officers to stop the unnecessary and costly separation of immigrant families and reduce unnecessary spending on detentions and deportations. In 2011, Miami-Dade County found that the cost of collaborating with federal immigration officers was $1,002,700 and in 2012, a cost of $667,076, all cost which were non-reimbursable.

“This is a radical bill that would rip parents away from their children and force all state entities to essentially turn-in families who lack immigration status,” Maria Rodriguez, executive director for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said.

Rodriguez argues the bill will “strong-arm” the local government and “fuel hate and racism that will further divide communities” at the taxpayers’ expense.

Advocates for sanctuary cities say there is better cooperation between local enforcement and immigrant communities when immigration issues are left to federal authorities. However critics argue undocumented immigrants are benefiting from taxpayer-funded services because local officials are disregarding federal law.

“Our borders are porous, enforcement is lax and immigration poses a threat to our physical security, our national security and our economic security,” Rep. Matt Gaetz , who supports the bill, said.

The proposal would also allow people, who has been the victim of a crime committed by an undocumented individual to sue the local government; and charge individuals who defy deportation orders with a felony.

“Our biggest threat is not Florida’s farm workers, housekeepers and immigrant entrepreneurs,” Rodriguez, said. “What do we gain by going after our neighbors? Our biggest threat is the tragic and backward erosion of values we have fought and died for and purport to hold dear as Americans. This is all too reminiscent of shameful periods of our nation’s history.”

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