Republican state legislators’ proposed Arizona-style immigration enforcement bills have stirred up a statewide discussion on the issue, including among law enforcement officials.
Speaking to more than 120 people at a Sarasota Republican Club meeting, Sheriff Tom Knight said he agrees with the general philosophy of getting illegal immigrants off the street, but realistically Sarasota County doesn’t have the jail space to house them.
“Where are you going to put them and how are you going to pay for it?” Knight asked during the Thursday night meeting.
Knight, a Republican, said he has been able to get more than 160 illegal immigrants from 17 counties in the jail deported in the last two years to free up jail space. But if deputies start checking the immigration status of people pulled over for routine traffic stops, he fears the jail population will swell past the 1,026 inmates the jail can hold now.
Knight is a member of the Florida Sheriffs Association. Its immigration platform states:
While not endorsing a particular piece of legislation, the FSA will continue to make [immigration reform] a priority. The Sheriffs have approved concepts similar to the proposal by Attorney General Bill McCollum that includes: Requiring checking a suspected immigrant’s status in the course of a stop for a violation of another law; requiring aliens to carry immigration documents; requiring businesses to ensure that new hires are authorized to work; and creating a sentencing enhancement for illegal aliens who commit a crime.
Amy Mercer, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association, tells The Florida Independent that her organization’s official position on current immigration enforcement proposals states:
FPCA supports and urges the Legislature to create a statute that may allow law enforcement officers the ability to determine the immigration status of a person who the law enforcement officer has established reasonable suspicion to believe that they are a person of interest in a criminal investigation. Furthermore, we support the creation of a misdemeanor offense (mirror to the existing federal law), E-verify employment, enhanced penalties (1 degree) for offenses committed, and citizen status verification at the time bond is set.
Immigration enforcement was brought to the forefront since state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and state Rep William Snyder, R-Stuart proposed bills that mimic Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070. Two GOP legislators have already stated they do not support these proposals.