Florida’s Anti-Sanctuary Law Succeeding – Other States, Please Take Note



In the past ten years, several states have passed legislation trying to clamp down on dangerous sanctuary policies at the local level, with mixed success.  Florida’s 2019 anti-sanctuary law, Senate Bill (SB) 168, is one of the most recent, but some of its distinct features may be why it’s already garnering national attention for how dramatically it’s enhanced the working relationships between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. 

The chief feature of SB 168 that makes it unique among anti-sanctuary laws is that it doesn’t just ban sanctuary policies, but actually requires some local law enforcement agencies to work actively with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Principally, the law directs every agency that runs one of Florida’s 67 county jail systems to enter into a formal cooperative agreement with ICE under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

While the “full” 287(g) program has been around since the 1990s, the National Sheriffs Association along with Florida sheriffs worked with ICE to develop and roll out two new “mini-287(g)” programs, the Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) program and the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program. The BOA and WSO are less resource-intensive for the local agencies that use them.  These “mini 287(g)” agreements give state and local law enforcement access to ICE’s databases, train them on immigration enforcement, allow them to issue and serve immigration detainers and administrative warrants, and most importantly protect them from liability. 

Before April 2019, there were only four Florida counties with 287(g) agreements.  Now there are 49 of them.  When FAIR published its nationwide survey of sanctuary jurisdictions in 2018, it identified 15 sanctuary cities and counties in Florida – now there appears to be none.  According to ICE spokeswoman Tamara Spicer, even though all Florida counties do not yet have agreements with ICE, every single one of them now honors immigration detainers. When requested by ICE, all local law enforcement will now hold illegal aliens up to 48 hours after release on their state charges so that ICE can pick them up.

There are many tangible successes since the passage of SB 168. One example was in Pasco County. There, the 287(g) agreement led to the identification and eventual deportation of 40 criminal aliens by the end of December 2019.  Another example is Alachua County, which was previously identified by FAIR as a sanctuary county.  Alachua County turned over 14 criminal aliens to ICE between June and December 2019, an increase from only three in all of 2017. 

While SB 168 doesn’t specifically require it, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and his Secretary of Corrections, retired US Army Provost Marshal General Mark Inch, are working with ICE on a similar agreement for the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC). The Northwest Florida Reception Center in Washington County will be the first Florida DOC facility to be covered by an agreement. They submitted their agreement in December and are awaiting final approval from ICE.  Florida will be the fourth state DOC with an agreement. Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts DOCs already have agreements in place.

The Florida Attorney General’s (AG) Office, which enforces the anti-sanctuary law, has only received one complaint of a possible violation since its anti-sanctuary law went into effect.  Currently the AG’s office has no active investigations, though they “stand ready to enforce the law.” In less than a year, Florida has become a model for an effective anti-sanctuary state.  State and local law enforcement are acting as force multipliers for ICE demonstrating the U.S. Congress’ vision for states helping enforce our nation’s immigration laws. 

About Author

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Dave joined FAIR in 2017 after more than ten years as an Assistant State Attorney in Broward County, Florida. His prosecutorial experience covered trial litigation at the misdemeanor and felony levels, drug court and mental health court, and two years as an intake attorney in the juvenile division working closely with law enforcement. Before this, he was a legislative analyst/staff attorney with the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives, where he assisted state legislators in ensuring the effectiveness and constitutionality of legislation on a wide variety of subject matter. In both capacities, he often dealt with the interaction of state law and immigration. Dave holds BAs in History and International Relations from American University and a JD from Tulane University Law School.

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