Florida immigration activists from Palm Beach County were very worried about plans by Florida legislators to introduce a law that mimics Arizona’s S.B. 1070 during the legislature’s most recent special session in Tallahassee.
Isabel Vincent of FLIC and the Palm Beach Coalition for Immigrants Rights tells The Florida Independent her organizations sought a meeting with state Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, to ask him to not introduce such a law.
“Other residents called Sen. Atwater to insist he not present any Arizona-type legislation during the special session,” Vincent says. Atwater is the Florida Senate president and a candidate for state Chief Financial Officer.
“In the end, the session didn’t last three [days] like we had been informed,” says Vincent, but “we are aware that this proposed legislation would be discussed in a special session planned for September.”
On July 14, state Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland) and state Rep. Kevin Ambler (R-Tampa) wrote to Atwater and Larry Cretul, Speaker of the House, “to urge you to demonstrate true leadership by expanding the call of next week’s special session to include a comprehensive immigration reform package that will address one of the most basic obligations we have to the Floridians who send us to Tallahassee: to protect the economic security and public safety of our great state.”
The proposed bill, which has yet to be titled, includes language
prohibiting an official or agency of the state or of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state from limiting or restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law; requiring that for any lawful stop, detention, or arrest made by a law enforcement officer or a law enforcement agency of the state or of a county, municipality, or other political subdivision of the state in the enforcement of any law or ordinance of a county, municipality, or the state where reasonable suspicion exists that the person stopped, detained, or arrested is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States a reasonable attempt be made to determine the immigration status of the person; requiring determination of an arrested person’s immigration status prior to release.
Spanish-speaking residents from Atwater’s district who called his Palm Beach office got no answer, so they contacted the Tallahassee office, where to their chagrin no bilingual personnel could field their calls.
Vincent wrote a letter to Laura Coburn, legislative assistant to Sen. Atwater, explaining how the lack of bilingual staff is a problem.
The letter to Coburn states, “the person who we talked to last said that even though she doesn’t speak, write, or understand Spanish, she would be willing to write messages down for the Senator, which, in all honesty, we don’t know how this last point would work.”
Sen. Atwater’s website indicates that almost 20 percent of his district’s residents speak languages besides English while at home.
Laura Coburn tells TFI, “We don’t have any bilingual staff, but it is important to have someone who can speak another language. Right now we take information from someone who calls and cannot communicate in English and have someone get back to them.”
When asked if Sen. Atwater agrees with the proposed immigration legislation Coburn said, “I cannot speak on his behalf, but he was open to the motion being made from the floor, but it wasn’t made.”