Column: SB 168 is Bad for Florida; Bad for the LGBT Community 

SFGN File Photo

Florida’s legislature is moving fast on a bill, SB 168, which requires local communities and police to do the job of federal immigration enforcement.

It's a dangerous idea and harms LGBT people. 

The bill will increase deportations and with nearly 80 countries criminalizing queer people, LGBT individuals, who immigrate and seek asylum in high numbers, will be disproportionately impacted.

SB 168 subjects LGBT people to heightened risk of judicial and extrajudicial violence: according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 9 in 10 LGBT asylum seekers were victims of sexual or gender-based violence in their countries of origin.

Moreover, in U.S. immigration detention, LGBT people face much of the same mistreatment. Transgender individuals are 13 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in detention than other immigrants. They are also often held in solitary confinement or placed in gender-segregated facilities not matched to their gender identity.

LGBT individuals are also detained in higher numbers and for twice as long. One study showed that in 2015, ICE held 90 percent of LGBT immigrants it processed even though its automated risk classification system recommended detention of 18 percent.  

SB 168 will perpetuate these and other problems and for little gain. The bill subordinates police and communities to the federal government and with no discretion, they'll be compelled to turn over immigrants their communities hold dear. 

Most immediately, the bill's effects will be seen in those jailed on victimless infractions, like driving without a license, which undocumented individuals can't obtain. This is remarkably common in Florida.

There's no worse time for the legislation. The federal immigration bureaucracy is reeling. In a court filing this month, the government said it could take up to two years to identify possibly thousands of migrant children separated from families.

Its errors and excess are remarkable. Consider Nelson Avila-Lopez, a gay asylum seeker who was, according to federal immigration authorities, accidentally deported. 

Two months later, he was killed. ICE said his deportation was probably the result of a communications breakdown.

Or consider this: from February 2017 to February 2019, ICE asked Miami-Dade county to hold for deportation 420 people identified as U.S. citizens in county jail records.

U.S. citizens can’t lawfully be held for deportation.  

From this maelstrom, ICE's own want out. 

As early as last year, in a letter to the Homeland Security secretary, a majority of the top criminal investigators at ICE asked to split from its detention and deportation arm, saying its controversial work hobbled their own. 

SB 168, which is set for a full vote in the Senate, tethers the state to this mess and damages police-community relations.  

With ICE arrests up by nearly 40 percent in this administration, reporting of violent crime in Hispanic communities dropped precipitously. Victims are afraid to report crime when deportation looms, which puts everyone at risk.

Last year, 60 top U.S. law enforcement officials warned that immigration efforts "could harm community trust and make it harder for state and local law enforcement agencies to do our jobs." 

The bill also requires law enforcement to report certain undocumented victims and witnesses to ICE. 

As one Republican lawyer wrote in opposition to the bill, "If the immigrant community does not feel safe calling emergency services, that gives violent criminals carte blanche to commit crime in immigrant communities with no fear of reprisal. 

"All it takes is one story...and no one in the immigrant communities feels safe to come forward, even when they and their children desperately need help (children who are often U.S. citizens, I might add)." 

Scott Greenberg is the executive director of the Freedom Fund, a non-governmental organization that addresses the disproportionate harms of mass incarceration on LGBTQ individuals. Write him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..