My Congressional district office assists hundreds of South Florida residents navigating urgent issues every year, from securing veteran and Social Security benefits, to helping a small business open its doors. But one issue drives more calls and visits by far: immigration.
In stark contrast to President Trump’s malicious and untruthful description of immigrants as criminals who flout the law, those who call my office are doing their best to comply with the law. And at almost every turn, they face an immigration system that has continuously failed to uphold its end of the bargain.
Florida Republicans would make this worse. Recently-passed GOP legislation would require localities to expend maximum resources to enforce federal immigration law even it violates the civil liberties of actual or perceived immigrants. Republicans back this immigrant-punishing bill, allegedly to counter ‘sanctuary city’ policies — of which there are none in Florida.
Sanctuary safeguards are local rules designed to shield immigrants from federal policies that ignore civil liberty protections. This latest GOP push to outlaw such policies and force local officials to enforce federal immigration laws — all without providing funding for it — is yet another cruel, immoral pander to Republicans’ nativist base.
It’s the complete wrong direction. My office assists families who have loved ones unexpectedly arrested and deported after showing up for routine check-ins. We help individuals renew work permits — a process that is now taking up to seven and a half months. We try to help with non-immigrant visa applications, so family members can attend a funeral, wedding, or graduation in the United States, though these requests are frequently denied. And we regularly hear about community members being turned away from the ICE facility in Miramar after waiting hours in line outdoors for their appointment, with almost no access to bathrooms, water or cover from the sun.
Florida leaders could pursue better ways to assist these courageous first-generation immigrants, who comprise one-fifth of our state. Our state could be a model to show the nation what it looks like to treat all community members with dignity. We could draw a sharp contrast to the White House-fueled climate of weaponized xenophobia.
But Republicans in the Florida Legislature have instead doubled down on a noxious form of nationalism by passing similar versions of Senate Bill 168, a bill that advances hate at the expense of our entire state’s safety and wellbeing.
The passage of SB 168 would signal to the rest of the nation, and to the world, that our state would rather vilify our immigrant brothers and sisters than protect the health of our community and economy. It maligns migrants at the expense of our agricultural industry, our police and public safety. It abandons businesses, tourism, and most importantly, any shred of humanity and compassion for immigrants and Hispanic community members, regardless of their documentation or status.
SB 168 is a grim expression of nationalist hate masquerading as policy. It has been condemned by local elected officials, business leaders, law enforcement, and advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a travel alert for our state that warns residents, citizens and non-citizens, and travelers about racial profiling and other dangers if the bill becomes law.
This legislation could compel members of our community to choose not to seek critical help from law enforcement if they are the victims of domestic abuse, wage theft, or other crimes. It would make them less safe, and foster a culture of tolerated abuse against immigrants.
The bill tramples on local governance, burdens law enforcement, and creates a culture of terror for all Hispanic individuals, who are at risk of being profiled due to their ethnicity.
That, in turn, creates a culture of fear for all of us, as we begin to worry that our friends, neighbors, community members, colleagues, and family members may be arrested and deported at any moment. Our state already has the highest rise in ICE arrests in the country, the majority of which are for nonviolent offenses, such as traffic offenses.
I am horrified at the possibility of our state becoming a place where our neighbors suddenly disappear with increasing frequency, and where our friends and family members live in fear; a state that others avoid out of fear and disgust, and a state that openly and gleefully denigrates more than 20 percent of its population.
That is not the Florida we should aspire to be, and Governor DeSantis should veto this harmful bill if it reaches his desk. SB 168 scapegoats some of our most vulnerable neighbors, co-workers and friends, and it would make all Floridians less safe.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Member of Congress