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Trump Attacks Bush on Sanctuary Cities


Donald Trump says that “the state of Florida had sanctuary cities while Jeb Bush was governor,” and “nobody said anything.” But we could find no evidence that any Florida city or county fit the bill of a sanctuary city at that time, at least not officially.

Making his regular pitch for tougher immigration policy, Republican presidential candidate Trump told a crowd in New Hampshire on Sept. 30, “We have to get rid of these sanctuary cities, it’s disgraceful.”

Trump then went on to talk about the case of Kathryn Steinle, who prosecutors allege was shot and killed in San Francisco by a Mexican national with a felony criminal record who had been deported several times. The case sparked a national debate about so-called “sanctuary cities” due to San Francisco’s policy of refusing to honor federal requests to detain people found to be in the country illegally.

Specifically, San Francisco passed a “Sanctuary Ordinance” in 1989 that prohibits city and county employees from “assist[ing] in the enforcement of federal immigration law or … gather[ing] or disseminat[ing] information regarding the immigration status of individuals in the City and County of San Francisco unless such assistance is required by federal or State statute, regulation or court decision.”

Trump then went on to accuse Jeb Bush, an opponent in the Republican primary, of being part of the problem. “The state of Florida had sanctuary cities while Jeb Bush was governor,” Trump said. “Nobody said anything” (at the 15:20 mark).

We reached out to Trump’s campaign for information to back up his claim, but we did not receive a response.

We could find no clear or convincing evidence to corroborate Trump’s claim.

While the definition of “sanctuary cities” varies, here’s how the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service put it.

Congressional Research Service, 2009: The term “sanctuary city” is not defined by federal law, but it is often used to refer to those localities which, as a result of a state or local act, ordinance, policy, or fiscal constraints, place limits on their assistance to federal immigration authorities seeking to apprehend and remove unauthorized aliens. Supporters of such policies argue that many cities have higher priorities, and that local efforts to deter the presence of unauthorized aliens would undermine community relations, disrupt municipal services, interfere with local law enforcement, or violate humanitarian principles. Opponents argue that sanctuary policies encourage illegal immigration and undermine federal enforcement efforts.

So do any cities or counties in Florida fit that bill during the time Jeb Bush served as governor, from Jan. 5, 1999, to Jan. 2, 2007?

According to a report from the Congressional Research Service issued in August 2006, when Bush was governor, there were 32 cities and counties nationwide that had “sanctuary policies.” None of those on the list is in Florida. (See footnote 85.)

Nor was Florida on a list compiled in December 2008 by the National Immigration Law Center of nearly 70 cities, counties and states that had laws, resolutions or policies limiting enforcement of federal immigration laws. However, the organization’s communications manager warned that the list has since been taken off its website, and “I can’t imagine it’s anywhere near accurate.”

Again, Trump’s campaign won’t say where he got his information. But one possibility is a report from the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC, which claims its report is “the most complete and widely used list of sanctuary cities in the United States.” OJJPAC’s list, originally compiled in 2006 and periodically updated, includes five Florida jurisdictions: DeLeon Springs, Deltona, Jupiter, Lake Worth and Miami. Two of them, Jupiter and Lake Worth, were added in April 2009, more than two years after Bush left office.

When PolitiFact Florida scrutinized the others on the list in July, local officials told PolitiFact they had never had so-called “sanctuary” laws. We note that the OJJPAC list includes jurisdictions it says have “informal” or “unwritten” sanctuary policies. We reached out to OJJPAC’s founder, Steve Salvi, via email to find out why the jurisdictions in Florida ended up on the organization’s list and when, but we did not hear back.

In 2006, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, a staunch proponent of stricter enforcement of immigration laws, got into a mini-war of words with then-Gov. Bush, after Tancredo referred to Miami as “a Third World Country.” Bush responded with a letter describing Miami as “a wonderful city filled with diversity and heritage that we choose to celebrate, not insult.” Tancredo dismissed Bush’s response as “politically correct happy talk” and asked in a follow-up letter, “Do you not worry that Miami’s ‘sanctuary city’ rules serve as a magnet for illegal aliens and undercut the state’s otherwise sound law enforcement policies?”

We couldn’t find any direct response from Bush about Miami’s status as a so-called sanctuary city — though in an email to a reporter later that month Bush called Tancredo “an ignorant man on the subject of Miami.”

On Oct. 19, 2006, the Miami Herald wrote about an immigrant advocacy group, American Fraternity, that was lobbying to have the Miami-Dade County Commission declare the county a sanctuary.

The paper quoted the group’s president, Alfonso Oviedo, as saying, ”For all practical purposes, I believe Dade County already is a sanctuary, but we want them to make it official so … that there will not be abuses.”

In July, PolitiFact Florida quoted Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado denying that Miami has ever been a sanctuary city. Regalado, who has been mayor since 2009, served on the city council during Bush’s time as governor.

“Do police enforce immigration? No, we never have. … Officially, we don’t protect immigrants or deliver immigrants (to federal officials),” Regalado told PolitiFact.

Based on those two comments, it is possible there could have been unofficial policies among some law enforcement agencies in Florida to not assist federal immigration authorities seeking to apprehend some people in the country illegally. But we agree with the Congressional Research Service that landing on a list of so-called sanctuary cities ought to be tied to “state or local act, ordinance, policy, or fiscal constraints” to limit cooperation with federal immigration officials.

We found one other list of “sanctuary cities” floating around the Internet. In July, the Center for Immigration Studies produced a map of “Sanctuary Cities, Counties and States.” It includes seven cities or counties in Florida, but all of them were due to policies adopted either in 2013 or 2014. That’s more than six years after Bush left office.

As the CIS website makes clear, its map was based on a 2014 report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which in early 2014 began to track when law enforcement agencies declined requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspects who had violated immigration laws. ICE identified 276 jurisdictions that were “limiting cooperation with ICE.” The whole issue of declined detainers didn’t even arise until 2011 or 2012, said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that describes itself as an advocate for “low immigration.”

“I do not know if there were any sanctuary cities in Florida when Jeb Bush was governor,” Vaughan said.

We also reached out to former Florida State Rep. Don Brown, a Republican, who in 2007 introduced a bill to prohibit so-called sanctuary cities from taking root in the state.

Brown told us in a phone interview that he proposed the legislation in reaction to an unsuccessful effort the previous year by then-state Rep. Anitere Flores, who is now a state senator, to offer in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants. Brown said he modeled his legislation after an Oklahoma law that had been passed in 2006.  

“My motivation was prospective, not reactive,” Brown told us. “I was not aware of any sanctuary cities in Florida. That was not my motivation for the bill. I was trying to prevent something like that from happening.”

Brown served in the state Legislature for eight years, ending in late 2008. So his tenure overlapped the majority of Bush’s time in office. He said he served as a county co-chair of Bush’s 2002 gubernatorial reelection campaign. Brown said he is not working on Bush’s presidential campaign, and has not formally endorsed any presidential candidate, though he said he is “a Jeb Bush supporter.”

“Anyone saying there were sanctuary cities in Florida at that time is stretching it,” Brown said. “If some cities had publicly declared that they were not going to enforce the laws, I’d remember. And I have no recollection of that.”

Brown’s bill never saw the light of day. At the time, Charlie Crist was the Republican governor, and Florida House Speaker (and now presidential candidate) Marco Rubio did not schedule the bill for a hearing.

One last point: The 2006 Congressional Research Service report on the state and local role of immigration enforcement noted that in 2002, Florida was one of three states to enter into a pilot program to train and empower state law enforcement officials to help the federal government enforce immigration laws, particularly related to domestic security and counterterrorism efforts.

So, while Trump said “nobody said anything” about Florida’s sanctuary cities, Bush did take action to enforce immigration laws in his state.

Moreover, Trump has provided no evidence that any city in Florida had a so-called sanctuary law on its books while Bush was governor. We’ll update this post if we receive new information.

— Robert Farley