Orlando City Council approves policy to stop police from asking people about immigration status

Orlando commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Monday that would stop police from asking "law-abiding" people about their immigration status.

On the steps of City Hall before the council meeting, Mayor Buddy Dyer said that even in a welcoming city like Orlando, he's heard from residents who are anxious and afraid because of the federal government's immigration policies.

"Many of the stories I’ve heard are heartbreaking, and that is why I’m committed to doing everything we can do to reaffirm and confirm our commitment to inclusiveness," Dyer says. "The Orlando Police Department is not in the business of immigration enforcement."

For over a year now, the 36 social justice organizations that make up the TRUST Orlando Coalition have lobbied municipal officials to pass a policy ensuring undocumented immigrants would not be profiled or detained based on their citizenship status by the Orlando Police Department.

The resolution states that no "law-abiding" individuals will be routinely
requested to provide their immigration status during any investigation by OPD, including crime victims, witnesses, reporters, non-criminal traffic offenders and others who have "routine contact" with the department. The policy also called for OPD to consider signing a U visa certification request for qualifying crime victims who have been helpful during the investigation process.

"The City of Orlando does not operate any detention facilities," the resolution states. "Therefore, no person's detention therein could, nor will be, extended by the Orlando Police Department based solely on that person's immigration status, unless otherwise required by law."

click to enlarge Orlando City Council approves policy to stop police from asking people about immigration status
Photo by Megan Scavo
Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who was instrumental in making sure the policy passed, says undocumented immigrants of "good character" should not live in fear of reporting crime.

"Feeling afraid to call your local police when you, your children or any member of your household has been a victim of a crime because you feel that you cannot trust your local policeman with your immigration status – that's not the dream people come to the United States for," he says. "We want to reassure hardworking people of character who fall under the status if undocumented immigrants that we're not going to persecute them."

Ortiz points out that the city is not being noncompliant with the federal government, "harboring" people with criminal records or trying to pass "sanctuary city" legislation. 

"We should not disturb the peace of undocumented immigrants of good character," he says.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina adds that the resolution strengthens OPD's existing policy regarding undocumented immigrants.

"My dad immigrated here from Palestine, so you're looking at the son of an immigrant," he says. "I grew up hearing stories about how he and his family were kicked out of their house because of their immigration status in the Middle East … I can assure you the Orlando Police Department does not detain, stop, arrest people based solely on their immigration status."

Immigrant advocates say the policy will make sure that undocumented people who are crime victims can come forward without fear of being detained or deported. Orlando is the first city in the South to adopt a TRUST Act, which is similar to legislation passed in Philadelphia, Chicago and Boston, according to advocates. Rasha Mubarak, of the Muslim Women's Organization, says Orlando continues to exemplify how all cities across the country should operate.

"We convene at a time where just weeks ago, there were images of children in cages," Mubarak says at a rally outside City Hall. "There were executive orders upheld by the Supreme Court about not allowing people solely based on how they worship. And now, we look at this image – this powerful image – of Orlando.”

Karen Caudillo is one of thousands of young undocumented people in the U.S. who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. Caudillo, who goes to the University of Central Florida, says the resolution gave her peace of mind about living in Orlando.

"I have no words to express the gratitude of just knowing that I can go to the grocery store, I can go to school, I can go to the doctor, and I won't be afraid of having an interaction with a police officer and being scared of being sent back," she says.

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