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Local Legislative Update: Florida’s Anti-Immigrant Legislation has Deep Ties to Hate Group, and Advocates Fight Back

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Anti-immigrant groups this year saw a new opening in Florida to pass their xenophobic legislative goals after Ron DeSantis, an anti-immigrant extremist and Donald Trump sycophant, narrowly won the gubernatorial election in 2018. Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), a local anti-immigrant group, has been pushing Florida legislators to advance their extremist legislation since 2011.  Two bills pretty close to what FLIMEN wanted were introduced year and began moving through the legislature in 2019.

FLIMEN has deep ties a national hate group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).  FAIR was founded in the 1970s by white nationalist John Tanton, who built a network of anti-immigrant organizations and hate groups (like FAIR’s sister organization the Center for Immigration Studies). Tanto’s racist ideas have been a matter of the public record since the 1980s. His early financial backers, like the Pioneer Fund, believed in eugenics and white racial superiority. And two of Tanton’s friends are prominent white nationalists Jared Taylor and Peter Brimelow, who run the white nationalist websites American Renaissance and VDARE, respectively. (Peter Brimelow now has connections to this White House.)

In 2016, FLIMEN sent drafts of model anti-immigrant legislation to sympathetic legislators. In 2018, their ally legislators filed bills remarkably similar to these drafts . The first, SB 168, calls for a ban on safe city policies, (also known as sanctuary city policies).  

Safe cities, contrary to how they are portrayed by FLIMEN, Republicans, and the Trump Administration, are an attempt to prioritize local law enforcement resources, ensure immigrants feel safe communicating with the police, follow the Constitution, and focus on immigrants who have committed serious crimes. Moreover, research has shown that safe cities are safer than cities with more anti-immigrant policies because undocumented communities feel safer communicating and cooperating with the police.

Top law enforcement officers in Florida have taken issue with FLIMEN’s plan. Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina sharply condemned SB 168, suggesting that its requirement of having local and state police check the immigration status of everyone they encounter, even people who need help, would keep him up at night.

The absurdity of SB 168 is magnified by the fact that no sanctuary cities currently exist in Florida. Though FAIR and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) have been happy to obfuscate and outright lie about that distinction. CIS wrongly claimed Hillsborough County was a sanctuary city, prompting Colonel Ken Davis, who oversees the County Sheriff’s Office Department of Detention Services to say, “It’s not true . . .  it’s a pretty reckless choice of words by that organization.”

After SB 168 was filed, David Caulkett, FLIMEN ’s Vice President and a state advisor for FAIR, testified before the state legislature in support of the bill.  And after a request from SB 168’s sponsor Sen. Joe Gruters, Caulkett sent him a list of 15 municipalities FLIMEN deemed to have safe city policies. The list was similar to one compiled by FAIR. Gruters then not only included Caulkett’s lists of cities in his analysis of SB 168 — he also cited both FAIR and CIS as part of that analysis.

“Do you know or did you know that CIS and FAIR are anti-immigrant hate groups?” Sen. Janet Cruz asked Gruters in a hearing over SB 168. Gruters claimed that was “the first time I have heard them characterized as anti-immigrant hate groups,” though he was undeterred by news of the association and has continued to push SB 168 forward.

The other piece of legislation FLIMEN is supporting, SB 164, proposes mandating E-Verify for all employers across the state. The program is highly flawed and inaccurate and would be bad for taxpayers, documented workers, and small businesses. Nevertheless, FLIMEN’s allies in the Florida legislature hope to move the bill forward

FLIMEN’s anti-immigrant legislation has not gone unnoticed. Advocates and activists across Florida have been organizing a massive effort to stop the advance of these two bills.  On March 26, over 300 Florida families, agricultural workers, faith leaders, educators, and immigrant youth, led by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, United We Dream, and other advocates went to the state capitol opposing SB 168 and its state House companion, HB 527.  

Take action to stop Florida’s SB 186 here.