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State Sen. Linda Stewart calls on Orlando and Orange County’s highest elected officials to join a lawsuit opposing the state’s new anti-sanctuary city law

Cry sanctuary

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The city of South Miami and several immigrant rights groups have announced that they plan to file a lawsuit this week challenging SB 168, the anti-sanctuary city bill approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last month.

Now state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, has begun calling on some of Central Florida's most powerful elected officials to step up and join the suit. In particular, she's attempting to tap Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, both Democrats, into the legal wrestling ring, even though neither Orlando or Orange County have identified as so-called sanctuary cities, a loosely defined term that refers to cities that are committed to welcoming refugees, asylum seekers and others.

"This bill was done very rapidly at the end of the [legislative] session, and I think it has some severe constitutional challenges to it," Stewart tells Orlando Weekly, noting that federal immigration law already prohibits state and local governments from adopting laws to become sanctuary cities. "It does have unintended consequences."

Dyer, who's up for re-election for his fifth consecutive term later this year, has never publicly described Orlando as a sanctuary city. In a statement to Orlando Weekly, Dyer says he does "not believe that the city is a property party or has standing to join the proposed lawsuit, in part because we do not enforce immigration laws."

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings served as Orange County Sheriff prior to his successful election last year. Despite the fact that SB 168 requires municipal governments to comply with ICE detainers, notify immigration authorities before the release of an inmate, and provide ICE with access to inmates for interviews, Demings declined to comment on the new law or on the lawsuit.

The law was one of DeSantis' key campaign promises.

"Earlier this year, I asked the Florida Legislature to present me with a bill this session that upholds the rule of law and addresses sanctuary cities and counties in Florida," DeSantis said in a news release last month. "We are a stronger state when protect our residents, foster communities and respect the work of law enforcement at every level."

Are we? A study produced by the centrist think tank the New American Economy earlier this year found that Florida stands to lose billions in tax revenue due to SB 168. Almost 86 percent of undocumented immigrants living in Florida are of working age (between 16 and 64), and they pay $1.7 billion annually in taxes, including more than $543 million in state and local taxes, and hold $13 billion a year in spending power at the local level.

"The costs of losing a significant portion of these workers could be substantial for Florida's economy," the study's authors write.

If 10 percent of the state's undocumented immigrants leave the state, according to the study, with them will go more than $76 million in federal taxes and more than $44 million in state and local fees and taxes each year – funds that go toward roads, education, health care, parks and corrections facilities.

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