Florida's attorney general and a group of state lawmakers moved Wednesday to push the Sunshine State into the forefront of the national illegal immigration debate with a bill modeled after Arizona's controversial law -- only, they claim, with a better shot of withstanding a court challenge.
State Attorney General Bill McCollum, following the lead of Virginia's top prosecutor, also issued an opinion saying state law enforcement already have the right to ask about immigration status in the course of their duties.
"This legislation will provide new enforcement tools for protecting our citizens and will help our state fight the ongoing problems created by illegal immigration," McCollum, a Republican, said in a written statement. "Florida will not be a sanctuary state for illegal aliens."
McCollum helped write the legislation, though Florida lawmakers will be responsible for pushing it in the legislature.
The move comes after a U.S. District Court judge blocked key provisions of Arizona's law. The battle between Arizona and the U.S. government, as well as civil rights groups, could make its way to the Supreme Court -- but while that fight plays out, several states are putting similar legislation on the table.
The Florida proposal would, like Arizona's, require law enforcement officers to check the residency status of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant in the course of a "lawful stop."
It would require state businesses to use a national registry to ensure new employees are legal and would increase penalties for illegal immigrants who commit other crimes. The bill would also require non-citizen immigrants to carry immigration documentation or face a misdemeanor charge that could carry up to 20 days in jail.
Though McCollum's office said in a statement that the legislation was adjusted to "strengthen it" against a possible court challenge, the proposal would go beyond Arizona's by letting judges consider a defendant's illegal immigrant status during bond proceedings.
State Rep. William Snyder wrote the bill with McCollum.
The unveiling comes after Virginia State Attorney Ken Cuccinelli last week issued a ruling saying police can ask people about their immigration status during routine stops. The move prompted an objection from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which urged state police to ignore the opinion.
McCollum did something similar Wednesday, releasing an informal opinion to a state lawmaker saying "it appears that state and local law enforcement have the authority to inquire into the immigration status" of anyone detained under state law providing the questioning doesn't "prolong" the detention.
As Cuccinelli said, McCollum clarified that under current law, officers are not required to ask about immigration status.