Florida Judge Pushes Back: “Sanctuary City” Law, Claims Unconstitutional

September 29, 2021 News & Announcements

A 110-page ruling was presented in Miami on Tuesday over the 2019 Sanctuary City Ban proposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Sanctuary City law was created to ban municipalities from adopting sanctuary policies for immigrants in the United States. District Judge Beth Bloom was quick to shut down the law, claiming that it had a direct violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution. The main issue? It is said to have discriminatory motives. The support the bill received by anti-immigrant hate groups supported Judge Bloom’s decision.  

During his run for governor, Florida Gov. DeSantis had stated the proposal of the bill in 2018 would be a priority of his administration. The bill received overwhelming support by Republicans and several anti-immigration groups across the state. Judge Bloom repeatedly mentioned that the bill was racially motivated and did not seem to have any evidence as to why it would be needed to lower crime. She also pointed out that the sponsor of the bill was headed by the anti-immigrant hate group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. After the judge’s decision on Wednesday, DeSantis argued that it would appeal.

Democrats, various advocacy groups including the ACLU, and Judge Bloom all give the critique that the law violates the equal-protection rights of Hispanic and Black people. If the law is designed to grant law enforcement expansive discretion, it would in turn make minority groups bear the weight of proactive policing. In addition, it would discourage immigrant communities from cooperating with law enforcement, increase racial profiling, and create even more distrust between the authorities and members of the community.

What is the “Sanctuary City” Bill and What is it Banning?

According to the Florida Senate, SB 168 is the Federal Immigration Enforcement. The purpose is to prohibit sanctuary policies and require state entities, local government, and law enforcement agencies to abide by and support the enforcement of federal immigration laws. It provides the authority for law enforcement to transport illegal aliens who are unlawfully present in the U.S. under certain circumstances. It is said to prohibit discrimination on specified grounds as well. 

Here is a list of more details on the SB 168:

  • The law would forbid the state from engaging in sanctuary policies or practices; and
  • The law would require state and local law agencies to honor immigration detainers and warrants when they are filed within those agencies; and
  • The law would require judges to amend sentences on filing a detainer to facilitate safe and efficient transfers to federal custody 12 days earlier than the end of a sentence would typically occur; and
  • The law would authorize the governor and state attorney general to initiate enforcement actions against state agencies or political subdivisions that are found to be in violation of the anti-sanctuary law.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Reasoning Behind Signing the Bill

The proposed bill was originally signed by DeSantis back in June of 2021, which prohibits state and local governments from having sanctuary policies in effect and would require the support and cooperation of federal immigration enforcement. One of the key attributes DeSantis highlights about the law is that it would improve the safety of the public by keeping criminals off the streets of communities.    

Gov. DeSantis gave the following comment on signed bill 168:

“Earlier this year, I made a promise that we would ban sanctuary cities in Florida and today we are delivering on that promise. I am proud to sign the bill presented to me by the Florida Legislature to uphold the rule of law and ensure that no city or county jurisdiction can get in the way of Florida’s cooperation with our federal partners to enforce immigration law. This is about public safety, not about politics. We must do everything in our power and use all the tools available to ensure that our communities are safe.”

Florida isn’t the only state having issues with this law being passed. At least 10 other states have enacted a bill with similar characteristics, prohibiting sanctuary policies or denying funding to the cities that go through with adopting them.

Texas is another state currently dealing with the push back of the state. They filed a motion to dismiss a 2018 challenge on SB4 that is currently pending. The law block was declined by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that year, pending the outcome of the case.

Florida Senator Joe Gruters, Republican and backer of SB 168 gave the following comment:

“Florida has once again stepped up when Washington D.C. has failed…This law ensures that we do not treat non-citizens better than Americans and that it will help ensure Floridians are not being victimized by illegal aliens.”

However, Judge Bloom and Democrats are not convinced that SB 168 will do much good for the community, reaffirming the stance that the bill is discriminatory towards minors, and that it violates the Equal-Protection Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

What is the Equal Protection Clause?

According to the Fla. Statute, the Equal-Protection Clause ensures the basic rights meant for all people in the community. It states that all natural persons, male and female, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess, and protect property. It also states that no person shall be deprived of any right because of race, religion, national origin, or physical disability.

Court cases that centered around equal-protection claims include::

  • In State vs Mayo, the defendant argued that his death penalty conviction was discriminatory on the basis of race. For evidence to support his claim, he highlighted statistics showing that over 12 years, seven non-white people in the 15-19-year-old age bracket were executed, whereas zero white people in the same age group were executed.
  • In Thomas vs State, the petitioner demonstrated that over the course of 20 years, 23 Black Americans were executed for committing rape crimes, whereas only one White American was executed.

Responses from the ACLU

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Florida was one of the organizations to critique and complain about DeSantis’ law. They claim that enforcing ICE detainer requests raises multiple constitutional concerns and prohibits the civil rights and liberties of perceived immigrants.

The policy is meant to include “a law, policy, practice, procedure, or custom adopted or permitted by a state entity, local government entity, or law enforcement agency.” The ACLU of Florida believes this will prevent the following characteristics:

  • Compliance with an immigration detainer request(s);
  • Compliance with a request from a federal immigration agency to notify the agency before the release of an inmate or detainee;
  • Federal immigration agency access to an inmate for review;
  • Investigation of the inmate’s immigration status, and
  • Providing a federal immigration agency with an inmate’s incarceration status or release date.

What Happens Now?

This is not the first bill signed by DeSantis that has been challenged and declined by a court. Just recently, the state appealed the ruling of the Anti-Riot Bill which was proposed after the mass of Black Lives Matter protests that exploded around the country. DeSantis has also signed bills to ban vaccine passports, to ban the mask mandates in schools, and the create punishments for large social media companies like Twitter and Facebook for blocking people based on their political posts. 

It appears that it has become a common theme for DeSantis to lose these challenges in the lower courts. However, he has strongly defended his laws and intends to pursue them further. Florida Senator Gruters, a Republican who backed the law, gave the statement, “I look forward to this ruling being overturned.” Gruters says the law was adopted with the community of Florida in mind, and that safety is the top priority. That said, he believes that Judge Bloom was merely misled if she found the bill to be about anything else. 

As for now, SB 168 will not be passed due to its unconstitutional characteristics. Judge Bloom believes the right choice was made in the court, and that it would do more harm than good in the community. She stated, “Allowing anti-immigrant hate groups that overtly promote xenophobic, nationalist, [and] racist ideologies to be intimately involved in a bill’s legislative process is a significant departure from procedural norms.” She continued by stating that “SB 168 promotes and ratifies the racist views of these advocacy groups.”

Democratic state representative Carlos Guillermo Smith provided the following statement: “Floridians deserve a legislature that prioritizes people over politics, not one that repeatedly squanders taxpayer money defending extreme legislation designed to bolster the Governor’s political ambitions. Florida has and will always be an immigrant state.”

 This article was written by Karissa Key

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