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Immigrant rights advocates protest as House takes up sanctuary cities bill

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About an hour and a half before the Florida House took up a controversial bill that would ban “sanctuary” cities and impose penalties on elected officials and communities that do not comply with the ban, about a hundred immigration rights advocates and several legislators held a protest outside the chamber decrying the bill as"flagrantly racist" and a threat to local governments.

The bill, HB 9, which would prohibit communitites from adopting sanctuary policies protecting undocumented immigrants at the risk of incurring penalties, would also compel Florida cities to comply with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"They're tired of seeing, year after year, anti-immigrant bills being introduced," said Julio Calderon, a campaign manager for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, as he stood in front of demonstrators hailing largely from South and Central Florida. "We need to stop dehumanizing our communities."

The bill, a legislative priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is primed to pass the House, though unlikely to pass the Senate.

Several Democratic politicians, including Miami-area Sens. Annette Taddeo and José Javier Rodriguez, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando attended and spoke in support.

Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami, who spoke out against the bill, said he had proposed two amendments, including language that would ensure the bill deferred to federal immigration law and make an exception for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy.

Picking up a 2-year-old boy named Alejandro as he spoke, Asencio asked, "Should we subject him to being deported? Should we subject his family to being deported?"

Alejandro's mother, 26-year-old Eugenia Echeverria of Orlando said she traveled from Central Florida last night worried about the future for her youngest child and her other two children, ages 6 and 7. Both she and her husband, who works in construction, are undocumented.

"I'm fearful that something happens to me or to my kids," she said in Spanish.

Photo: Elizabeth Koh