The Florida Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve a controversial immigration-enforcement measure after just minutes of debate on the tail end of a packed agenda, but not without making some changes called for by immigrant advocates.
The meeting ran from 3:15 to 5:15 Monday afternoon. After the committee worked through a stack of bills, from an overhaul of the judicial nominating process to a crackdown on Sharia, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, moved at 4:59 to bring up Senate Bill 2040 and vote on it before the meeting ended.
Subhash Kateel of the Florida Immigrant Coalition was the only member of the public — out of more than three dozen who signed up, at least one in favor but almost all opposed — who spoke on the measure. Another, a supporter of the bill, waived his chance to speak after being told to limit his comments in the interest of time.
Kateel urged the committee to follow the lead of states like Mississippi, Kentucky and Arizona, which have shelved some of their more contentious immigration proposals this year. As he stood at the podium, many of the 120 or so people who had come to oppose the measure gathered behind him.
More than 30 people had signed up to speak against the bill. Some had driven for four hours from Hillsborough County. Others drove six hours from Palm Beach County. Others had come from as far away as Homestead and Miami.
Betzy Rega of Jupiter, who had signed up to speak against the measure, carpooled with four fellow advocates to tell lawmakers that she felt the bill would make lead to increased racial profiling — something members of her family have already experienced.
Once debate was cut off, the crowd started chanting, “Let us speak! Let us speak!” After the vote, they swarmed the press gaggle around committee chair Anitere Flores, raising objections similar to Rega’s and voicing a sense of betrayal.
Flores said the bill had already been heard by the committee two weeks ago, when it was proposed, and that the public had a chance to weigh in then.
Still, Kateel said, the timing of the meeting, which led to a hurried reading of amendments before the brief public discussion, had “stymied the democratic process.”
The committee approved several changes, which would it make voluntary for sheriffs to enter immigration enforcement agreements with the federal government, a partial victory for crackdown opponents that Kateel cautioned could prove temporary. The bill’s next stop is the Criminal Justice Committee, chaired by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview, who has sponsored a bill this session that much more closely resembles Arizona’s infamous Senate Bill 1070.
The panel also cleared a measure that would allow unauthorized immigrants from inside the state to pay in-state tuition at Florida’s universities.