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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Attn: Florida Legislature: Immigrants Have Rights

Michelle Richardson, Director of Public Policy, ACLU of Florida

As Tallahassee gears up for the 2016 legislative session, which starts on January 11, anti-immigrant bills have already started rearing their ugly heads.

Towards the end of the summer, Representative Carlos Trujillo (R-District 105) filed a bill (HB 9) that would criminalize immigrants by making it a first degree felony for a person to be knowingly present in the state of Florida after receiving a final deportation order. If this bill were to become law, violations are punishable by up to 30 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.  Senator Travis Hutson (R-District 6) filed the companion bill (SB 118) in the senate.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration policy. The act of being present in the U.S. in violation of immigration laws, even after an order of deportation, is not an actual crime, despite the “criminal alien” rhetoric.  

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In fact, Congress has repeatedly rejected proposals to make unauthorized presence a federal crime, including after extensive debate on the issue only three weeks ago. Instead, Congress has determined that unauthorized immigrants who remain present in the United States and willfully fail to depart after a final order of removal are subject to civil fines.

HB 9/SB 118 aims to change this penalty from a civil fine to a first-degree felony and essentially bypass the federal government’s decision, which as we learned from Arizona v. United States (2012), isn’t something the Supreme Court was in favor of. In Arizona v. United State, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law (SB 1070) that attempted to criminalize undocumented immigrant’s solicitation of employment—because it conflicted with federal law and was therefore preempted by Congress’ choice to impose only civil penalties on such conduct.

Beyond the constitutionality of this legislation, this bill would also turn our local law enforcement into immigration agents and drive a wedge between them and the communities they serve, undermining their ability to investigate crimes. Local immigration activists have already come out in opposition of this bill and have voiced concerns about this bill targeting hard-working families rather than criminals.

Last week we sent a letter to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee urging members to oppose this attempt to criminalize Florida’s immigrant community. A hearing on this bill has yet to be scheduled but we’ll be keeping a close eye on it and similar legislation trying to unlawfully criminalize immigrants and detract local law enforcement from their core mission, effective community policing.

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