Florida bill ‘goes one step further’ than Arizona immigration law
20 days in jail for immigrants who don’t carry documentation on them
Florida’s Republican attorney general on Wednesday proposed toughening the state’s immigration laws, with powers to punish illegal immigration that could go beyond a controversial Arizona law.
Bill McCollum, who is running for governor, introduced the legislation amid an increasingly charged public debate over how far states should go to control illegal immigration, traditionally a federal responsibility.
McCollum said the bill “goes one step further” than the Arizona law, because it would increase penalties for illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in Florida, and makes it harder for illegal immigrants to post bail.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This legislation will provide new enforcement tools for protecting our citizens and will help our state fight the ongoing problems created by illegal immigration,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said in a press release. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Florida will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“Like Arizona, the draft legislation requires aliens to carry immigration documentation or face a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to 20 days in jail for the first offense,” the press release states. “The proposal also makes it a misdemeanor for an illegal alien not authorized to work to seek employment in the state of Florida.”
The law instructs judges to take into account violation of immigration regulations in setting bail, or to elevate the degree of criminal charges.
It also provides for longer prison sentences for crimes committed by immigrants who are in the country illegally.
“This law is fairly balanced to protect the rights of those who are here legally and illegally,” McCollum said, calling it “a huge step for public safety.”
The legislation requires police making an arrest to determine whether the person is in the country legally, something they can now do on a voluntary basis but which normally is the province of immigration authorities.
McCollum said that under the proposed law, police could arrest some on a “reasonable suspicion” that they are illegal immigrants.
He said the law bars “unreasonable profiling,” however, which means that arrests on the basis of a person’s appearance alone would not be allowed.
The lack of papers or a driver’s license, however, might be enough to constitute a reasonable suspicion, according to McCollum.
“You are supposed to have papers to show that you are here legally and if you don’t have them, you don’t have a legal status to be here,” he said.
The proposed law also would strengthen controls on the hiring of immigrants and would require companies to use an electronic system to prove that people they hire are in the country legally.
Immigration rights groups estimate that there are some 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of them Hispanics living in southern states like Arizona, Texas and to less extent Florida.
A law criminalizing illegal immigration went into effect in Arizona last month amid protests and bitter debate that drew in President Barack Obama, who promised comprehensive immigration reform.
A US federal judge issued an injunction against the most controversial portions of the Arizona law last month, but the state is appealing the ruling.
— With a report from AFP