Sheriff Jerry Demings announced Wednesday that he will not enter into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that would enforce immigration laws in Orange County, Florida. There are no sanctuary cities at the municipal level in the state of Florida, but under Orange County’s protection, Orlando-area immigrants can enjoy some reassurance from their local officials.
By claiming sanctuary status, it is one of the latest areas to follow the nationwide trend of publicly opposing President Trump’s immigration policies. This announcement comes after prolonged pressure from local activists, who urged officials to consider joining other Florida sanctuary counties.
Juan Sabines Guerrero, a captain with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, relayed Sheriff Demings’ stance, in Spanish, to a crowd gathered at the Mexican Consulate in Orlando on Wednesday evening.
“There is concern over what is happening nationally. Therefore, I officially announce, in accordance to what Sheriff Demings wants to relay to the community, that the sheriff will not enter into any agreement with the Department of Homeland Security,” said Sabines Guerrero. The crowd began to applaud before he finished his statement. He reassured the crowd that the sheriff’s office is focused on enforcing county laws—not looking at immigration paperwork.
Local activists have been working tirelessly on plans to protect the rights of immigrants after President Trump signed an executive order calling for tough immigration enforcement, including threats to defund sanctuary cities. These activists include representatives from the ACLU of Central Florida and the local Mexican Consulate, among others. Speaking as private citizens, impassioned members of the community spoke at a county commission meeting, arguing that mass deportations would create panic among the prominent immigrant population in Orlando, and would be devastating to the county’s largest economic resources—tourism and agriculture.
The activists also spoke at two legislative hearings and demanded meetings with local representatives, including U.S. Reps. Val Demings (Sheriff Demings’ wife) and Darren Soto. In response to the activists’ requests for meetings, they publicly opposed President Trump’s immigration policies, and hosted roundtable discussions with their constituents. Rep. Soto also urged those organizations to educate members about their constitutional rights and deportation risks, and Rep. Demings met with Muslim leaders in the community to discuss their specific struggles.
The announcement of sanctuary county status is an encouraging step for local activists as they lead other progressive fights. “We are going to continue to protect immigration rights,” said Chardo Richardson, president of the ACLU of Central Florida. “We are adhering to a seven-point plan and mobilizing our card-carrying members, and we have a large number of individuals participating, as well.” Richardson identified several bills that their local chapter is focused on, including a bill that would undo their hard work: House Bill 697. If passed, sanctuary cities/counties in the state of Florida would be prohibited, and state and local government officials would be forced to adhere to federal immigration policies.
The ACLU of Central Florida has several task forces and legal observers dedicated to producing change and preventing discrimination, including groups dedicated to First Amendment protection, surveillance, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. “In addition, we are rolling out a campaign for criminal justice reform”, said Chardo Richardson.
Other local progressive groups also show no signs of slowing down. Protests continue in the struggle to locate and question former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio at his Orlando office, regarding his support for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The city will also be participating in sister marches for the March for Science and Trump’s Tax March.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird