Florida Republican Party chair and Sarasota State Sen. Joe Gruters, a man who looks like a racist groundhog, sure hates him some immigrants. He's currently pushing SB 168, an anti-"sanctuary" bill that forces Florida towns to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, even though every town in Florida already does this. Civil rights groups are warning the bill will rip immigrant families apart and discourage immigrants from reporting other crimes to police out of fear they'll be deported. The original idea for the bill came from a literal hate group.
Does Gruters care? No. Case in point: He has a hideously racist sign outside his office that purports to show the "Faces of Criminal Illegals Deported from Sarasota County." According to a video posted online yesterday by activist Thomas Kennedy, Gruters apparently saw no issue with keeping this abominable sign up while a child begged him not to pass a bill that would hurt his family:
Seven year old Isaac shared his story with Senator @JoeGruters, who is sponsoring a hateful anti-immigrant bill that will separate immigrant families for minor things like driving without a license. Isaac asked him “are you with me?” Unfortunately Senator Gruters is not. pic.twitter.com/FMbHen6Dx5— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) April 23, 2019
The sign, of course, serves no other purpose than to frighten people while touting that Gruters is doing a great job kicking those scary immigrants out of Sarasota.
He's basically confirmed as much. After this reporter called the sign "racist" on Twitter yesterday, Gruters chimed in to ask why, even though he almost certainly knows the answer:
Why is that racist? Over 500 people from 35 countries have been detained from SARASOTA. All are and should be equal under the law.— Joe Gruters (@JoeGruters) April 24, 2019
To actually send you a serious question: Study after study confirms that immigrants, including undocumented people, commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Why put this sign up? Why do you think your voters care about this? https://t.co/0SKUFEIYDJ— Jerry Iannelli (@jerryiannelli) April 24, 2019
He didn't answer our follow-up questions.
Of course, the sign makes no mention that immigrants — including undocumented people — commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans do. Numerous studies have confirmed this. In July 2018, the Washington Post noted two different studies showing lifelong U.S. residents are actually more dangerous and commit more crimes than undocumented immigrants do.
"Rather than causing higher crime, increased undocumented immigration since 1990 is generally associated with lower rates of serious violence, although this relationship seems qualified depending on the specific type of violence and weighting scheme," states one March 2018 study in the peer-reviewed journal Criminology.
Gruters' sign also doesn't explain why any of those people were deported — maybe they were nabbed for murder, but maybe they just made an illegal U-turn and got stopped by the cops.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to New Times Broward-Palm Beach's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling South Florida's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Of course, it would be foolish to assume Gruters cares whatsoever about data or context here. He ran Donald Trump's 2016 campaign in Florida, after all. He just cares about whatever whips up the cranky, psychotic voters in his district, and this apparently does the trick. The sign has appeared in various stints for weeks. Kennedy posted an image of it on March 12. It's back up again, despite protests from immigrants' rights groups. They've again asked Gruters to remove the poster.
We tried meeting with Senator @JoeGruters today about his family separation Senate Bill 168 and were treated rudely. His staff asked us if we were criminals and threatened to call security. By the way check out the extremely xenophobic anti-immigrant poster in his office. pic.twitter.com/XygL6jhJZW— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) March 12, 2019
For what it's worth, Republicans have been selling SB 168 with nothing but racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center and News Service of Florida have both confirmed the original draft resolutions of this bill came from a group called Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), which is an offshoot of the national Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR was founded by a man who believed in outright, Nazi-style eugenics. Despite the fact that the SPLC still considers FAIR a hate group, Gruters emailed back and forth with them this year, per the News Service of Florida.
Nevertheless, Gruters on April 17 rolled out two Florida parents whose son was killed in a fatal car accident with an undocumented driver. Rather than fight for better road-safety laws, easier access to driving lessons, or better public transit, Gruters exploited the grieving parents to argue that more people ought to be deported. Even though the Florida GOP has provided no legitimate reason why the state needs this bill, it's been sailing through the state Legislature and is in danger of passing before the legislative session ends May 3.