No matter what the state decides, Clay won’t be a sanctuary county

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House and Senate Republicans support passing a ban on so-called sanctuary city policies, but differences between the chambers are stalling final passage of one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top legislative priorities.

The House early Wednesday substituted its proposed sanctuary-city ban for a Senate version of the bill. Before the House decision, Sen. Travis Hutson, said such a move could potentially send the “whole thing up in flames.”

“I would support either bill addressing illegal immigration, but the Senate is in better position to pass the Senate bill,” Hutson said.

The Senate version (SB 168) narrowly passed the upper chamber last week and then went to the House. After making the substitution early Wednesday, the House will take a vote and send the bill back to the Senate. Ultimately, lawmakers would need to reach agreement on a final version by the end of the week.

The House proposal, in part, includes tougher sanctions for policymakers who don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The House plan would allow local-government employees and elected officials to be suspended or removed from office, and local governments could be fined up to $5,000 for each day they have sanctuary-city policies in place.

The House also wants to allow people to bring wrongful-death lawsuits against local governments if their loved ones are killed or injured by undocumented immigrants as a result of local sanctuary-city policies.

Regardless of what happens in Tallahassee, Clay County will turn over anyone who’s in the country illegally over to federal authorities, sheriff Darryl Daniels said.

I have an obligation to this constituency to ensure that, if folks were coming to my county illegally and committing crimes, that I did all that I could to get those people out of my county,” Daniels said in 2017. “If [getting criminals] out of the county means they have to get deported back to another country, then so be it,” Daniels said. “I have no issues there.”

The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has four officers who have been deputized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Clay is one of only five of Florida’s 67 counties that have a deputized ICE agent at the jail. Others include Jacksonville (Duval), Collier, Pasco and Hernando.

Once a person is booked at the Clay County Jail, if they are suspected of being in the country illegally, they are taken to a designated ICE office within the jail to be screened. A federally-trained deputy will search for their name, fingerprints and pictures through Homeland Security.

Anyone who is in the country illegally who’s caught in Clay County will be turned over to ICE for deportation, the sheriff’s office said.

The Senate has only agreed to give enforcement authority to the governor, who would be allowed to remove local officials from office, and the attorney general, who would have the power to bring civil actions against local governments.

On the side of caution, Hutson said he would like to maintain support for the Senate bill. That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican who has been a constant target by opponents of the bill and is wary of federal programs that deputize local law-enforcement officers to perform the duties of federal immigration agents.

Senate bill sponsor Joe Gruters told The News Service of Florida he is well aware of concerns some senators have and understands that it may be difficult to pass the House proposal in its entirety in the Senate.

Oliva, however, is not a fan of the Senate’s weaker sanctions and a “carve-out” for employees who work at the state’s child welfare agency from fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. He said the carve-out for the Florida Department of Children and Families creates a “sanctuary department within the state.”

“Such a great irony for a bill that is seeking to make sure everybody cooperates with law enforcement,” the Miami Lakes Republican told reporters on Monday.

When the House sends the bill back to the Senate, Gruters said he remains “confident we are going to salvage it,” even though he remains concerned about time running out in the legislative session.

The sanctuary city issue has been one of the most-controversial issues of this year’s legislative session. Such proposals have died in recent years in the Legislature, but DeSantis has made the issue a priority.

Ana Ceballos covers politics and policy. Before joining the News Service of Florida, she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up.

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