Originally published by Chicago Tribune
More than a dozen advocacy groups issued a warning about traveling in Florida on Wednesday saying immigration arrests there have soared more rapidly in the past year than in any other area of the country.
Leaders from immigrant rights and nonprofit organizations said new cooperation between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and 17 Florida sheriffs is also spreading fear in the state.
The travel advisory issued by 15 groups warns immigrants from other states to reconsider Florida trips or to be ready to encounter immigration agents at airports, sea ports and bus stations.
"We are taking the step of warning our communities that as the Florida lawmakers, state, local and federal do not take steps to push back against the anti-immigrant policies, we do not feel like our communities are safe in the state," said Tomas Kennedy, deputy political director at the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The advisory comes as Florida braces for its busy spring break season in March, when its beach resorts and theme parks attract millions of people. The government estimated more than 4 million travelers from Canada and other countries arrived from January to March in 2017, compared with almost 27 million visitors who came from other states.
Activists staged several rallies across the state Wednesday, including at Greyhound bus stations — where at least two recent Border Patrol arrests of passengers were caught on cellphone videos. Federal lawmakers have demanded a review of searches and seizures in the 100-mile (160-kilometer) zone near borders and coasts.
Recently other groups have advised travelers to be cautious when visiting other areas because of immigration concerns. In May, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a warning about traveling to Texas after the state had passed a new law banning so-called sanctuary cities, allowing officers to ask people about their immigration status during routine stops.
Although Texas saw large numbers of immigration arrests from October 2016 to September 2017, Florida had the largest increase when comparing numbers to the previous fiscal year. Arrests went up by 76 percent in Florida from about 3,500 to nearly 6,200, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics.
Also, the agency last month in Florida unveiled what it called a template of a nationwide model that gives law enforcement agencies the power to hold immigrants who have been arrested for other offenses and are in the country illegally. Seventeen Florida law enforcement agencies have agreed to follow the new protocol with ICE, a decision called into question by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
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