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‘Adopted with the intent to discriminate’: Florida Advocates and Leading Expert Witness Conclude Testimony Challenging Florida’s Racist, Anti-immigrant Law

S.B. 168 proponents assert public safety in spite of data that reveals so-called sanctuary jurisdictions actually had lower rates of crime than non-sanctuary jurisdictions

MIAMI – Acclaimed U.S. historian Allan J. Lichtman appeared in trial as an expert witness in the legal challenge to Florida’s anti-sanctuary law, or S.B. 168, testifying that the legislation was designed in close collaboration with anti-immigrant and nativist groups and has both a discriminatory intent and impact. According to Dr. Lichtman, S.B. 168 reduces public safety and harms Florida’s communities. The law, which was enacted in 2019, has already resulted in an increase in racial profiling, arbitrary police stops, and discriminatory arrests.
 
Throughout the trial, evidence presented by Dr. Lichtman and the Plaintiffs’ attorneys illustrated that the public safety rationale advanced by proponents of S.B. 168 was demonstrably false, and primarily used to hide its discriminatory intent. “After a methodological analysis based on my experience and the evidence, I have reached the opinion that S.B. 168 was adopted with the intent to discriminate against minorities in Florida, based on their perceived or actual national origin, race, and alienage,” concluded Dr. Lichtman in his expert report
 
Anti-immigrant groups including FAIR and FLIMEN were found to have expressed strong anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment throughout their close involvement in the drafting, strategy, and promotion of S.B. 168.
 
The suit was filed in 2019 by a coalition of immigrant and civil rights organizations after Florida passed the S.B. 168 legislation. The plaintiff organizations include the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF), WeCount!, Americans for Immigrant Justice, Hope Community Center, QLatinx, Westminster Presbyterian United Church, The Guatemalan-Maya Center, Inc., and the Family Action Network Movement. The Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys with the Community Justice Project, Inc., the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
 
The trial will conclude with closing arguments this afternoon.  

TRIAL SUMMARY, CONTEXT, AND QUOTES

S.B. 168 has impacted communities in Florida by actively harming families targeted for detention or deportation and eroding trust between communities and law enforcement. The law, part of which relies on flawed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) databases, has often resulted in the detainment of U.S. citizens. 
 
“My mother migrated to Florida to escape domestic violence when I was three years old. As a result, my family became undocumented. It’s anti-immigrant laws and sentiment in Florida that kept my mother from reporting exploitation, such as wage theft and sexual harassment, at her workplace,” said Marco Antonio Quiroga, a DACA recipient and resident of Orlando. “Survivors of violence, single parents, sole providers to one’s family, and youths in crisis do not risk themselves and their family by calling the police to report a crime or to seek critical support if they fear contact with police,” continued Quiroga. “Anti-sanctuary laws such as S.B. 168 erode trust, reduce public health and safety, isolate immigrant communities, and enable racially-motivated hate.”
 
In his testimony, Dr. Lichtman described Florida’s extensive history of racial profiling exacerbated by proactive police measures, like S.B. 168, and presented data that, contrary to what proponents of the law have claimed, suggests that so-called sanctuary jurisdictions actually had lower rates of crime than non-sanctuary jurisdictions. S.B. 168 prohibits sanctuary policies and requires law enforcement to use their “best efforts” to help enforce federal immigration laws, effectively deputizing local police to act as ICE agents and comply with detainer requests. 
 
Dr. Lichtman opined that proponents of S.B. 168 employed an “Immigrant Threat Narrative” during the 2019 legislative session and concluded that the use of this Immigrant Threat Narrative was not only demonstrably false, but also made the discriminatory impact of S.B. 168 all the more foreseeable. According to Dr. Lichtman, this Immigrant Threat Narrative conflicts with the data, which shows that crime rates in Florida were significantly declining as the undocumented immigrant population was rising before the passage of S.B 168. 


Chart 11 of Expert Report: Changes in undocumented immigrants in Florida (in thousands) and Florida crime rates (in tens of thousands, for comparable scale)

 “You can see the scissors effect at exactly the same time undocumented immigration in Florida is soaring, the crime rate is rapidly and significantly falling,” added Dr. Lichtman, referring to Chart 11 of his expert report. “Again, contrary to what the Threat Narrative might have you believe.” Dr. Lichtman also noted he “found that being a ‘sanctuary’ county, rather than increase in crime, had a negative effect on crime rates.”
 
Dr. Lichtman did not mince words in his analysis of groups like FAIR and FLIMEN, organizations he found to have expressed strong anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment throughout their close involvement in the drafting, strategy, and promotion of SB 168. When asked if FAIR and FLIMEN are anti-immigrant groups, Dr. Lichtman responded, “there can be no question based upon their statements and their positions,” citing numerous examples of “hateful rhetoric” espoused by these groups and their leaders.
 
Following trial last Wednesday afternoon, the Plaintiffs and advocates were struck by the juxtaposition of the lenient policing of the all-white mob at the nation’s Capitol and the policing of everyday people in their own communities. 
 
“In a moment when white nationalism is storming our legislative halls, threatening our democracy and public safety, we are proud to stand on the right side of history here in Florida,” said Oscar Londoño, Executive Director of WeCount. “Throughout this trial, we have unmasked the hate and white nationalism that brought S.B. 168 into existence. We look forward to winning this case and our broader fight for a more just and inclusive Florida.”
 
“The violence of Wednesday’s insurrection and the widespread harm perpetrated by this law both spring from the same well of white supremacy,” said Mich Gonzalez, a senior staff attorney with the SPLC. “Florida Senator Gruters, the primary sponsor for this bill, and who worked closely with anti-immigrant group FLIMEN for its passage, openly helped organize buses of Floridians to descend on D.C. last week. The rhetoric and actions of this bill’s proponents make clear that their concern for so-called ‘public safety’ begins and ends with the color of your skin.”