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Sarasota County Commission brings up ‘cost of illegal immigration’

Written by on Thursday, June 27, 2024

But the immigrant community got a strong show of support from the public.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: June 26, 2024

Host: A Republican Sarasota County Commissioner is up for stiff competition from a conservative law and order guy in the upcoming elections. So what do you do? You call for a red-meat meeting. Even though it has little to no jurisdiction over immigration, the Sarasota County Commission held a hearing about the “impacts of illegal immigration”. The event last Friday produced little new information, but drew loud protest. Ramon Lopez was there.

Crowd: [chanting] Immigrant rights! Human rights! Same struggle! Same rights! Families! Children! Do not fear! We are neighbors! Welcome here! Families! Children! Do not fear! We are neighbors! Welcome here! Families! Children! Do not fear! We are neighbors! Welcome here! Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Discrimination’s got to go!

Ramon Lopez: The Sarasota County Commission last Friday (June 21st) held a workshop on the impact of illegal immigration. It sparked heated criticism at a protest held outside the county admin building before the meeting began. Thirty or so demonstrators, holding signs reading “stop the hate” and “we stand for immigrants,” said the workshop unfairly discussed how immigrants living here illegally are impacting county costs. We hear from Sebastian Martinez; Sarah Parker, executive director of Voices of Florida; Richard Cannarelli; and Ruth Beltran, host of WSLR’s Ruthless Truth public affairs program, respectively.

Sebastian Martinez: The county commission has a plethora of issues it should be facing to help the lives of every Sarasota resident: to fight overdevelopment, to fight the rising cost of living, fight our traffic congestion, protect our environment. They should be focused on that and not on the lives of those who build your roads, pick your food, paint your houses, and build the roofs you sleep under. 

The County Commission and other local governments weaponize immigration because a lot of the time those families, parents, and children of undocumented immigrants can’t show up and speak for themselves.

Sarah Parker: I’m disheartened and respectfully pissed off any of us have to be here. I would like to say to the undocumented individuals that are watching at home, You are and will always be welcomed here by our community. And not because of us but because of that this is how this country was built. I want to be clear this is a political sham. This is pandering to a base who want blood because they can’t afford they can’t figure out who to blame for the lack of food, for the lack of affordable housing, and not being able to afford basic necessities. The county commissioners fear that they will be blamed. Rightfully so. So instead they have their base turn on their neighbors, which is cowardice. 

Today, we will stand up and as usual, fight back against the political theater. This isn’t fiscally conservative; they are wasting money. This is the swamp we often hear about. They’re trying to save themselves from drowning. They say America first, but they put politics first. They put their donors first. They don’t care about Sarasota. They care about the privilege they get from sitting at that seat. Because if they did care, they wouldn’t have dared attack the people who helped not only build our country, but build this city and our states. The people who stimulate the economy.

Ruth Beltran

Richard Cannarelli: The Irish were discriminated against, the Poles were discriminated against, the Chinese. Almost every immigrant group has been discriminated against and now we have centered in on people who are Latino. This has to stop. This is not America. This is not what we stand for. I can’t help but believe that this was orchestrated somewhere else. I am not aware of any major immigrant problem in Sarasota County. We have to believe that we are Americans and that the Statue of Liberty stands for something.

Ruth Beltran:The residents of Sarasota are facing compounding problems with the lack of affordable housing, the lack of a living wage, and the lack of even affordable child care, which is something that the county commission just gutted not long ago. And it’s disgusting to see that the commission, instead of spending time trying to solve these problems, trying to find affordable housing for our working class, trying to find affordable daycare for our working class, instead, they are wasting time, and they are using immigrants this time to divide us. That is the only goal of the commission. We must see this for exactly what it is, a distraction. However, we stand here today to say that we are not afraid of immigrants. Immigrants are our parents, our children, our coworkers, our neighbors. Immigrants are us.

RL: The two-hour special meeting was contentious and ambiguous, and was held as the county commissioners prepared next year’s budget. Commissioner Joe Neunder said the workshop was useful.

Joe Neunder: I actually think this is the right time to have that conversation about the topic of this meeting, which is illegal immigration and its impact — fiscal impact. But it’s important for us as we go through our budget process to interact with you, to interact with our sheriff, our other constitutionals, the people that could be directly involved in this. Do they need more resources? This is that opportunity to have that conversation and dialogue. 

RL: The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, the State Attorney’s Office of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, two local hospitals, and the Sarasota County School Board, were asked to address the impact of illegal immigrants on them. But only Sheriff Kurt Hoffman and State Attorney Ed Brodsky attended.

Sheriff Hoffman focused on the various costs of illegal immigration within the criminal justice system. He offered statistics on criminal activity of illegal immigrants in the county, and the overall cost of housing them in the county lockup.

Kurt Hoffman: These folks that I’m talking about, that are impacting my budget in Sarasota County … when I say illegal immigration, I’m talking about criminal illegal aliens that have come into my jail, right? that have been apprehended by law enforcement — in fact, all law enforcement agencies, because we run the jail. So the criminal impact of that, and perhaps a human impact as well that I’ll discuss, is what I’m going to focus on, because I believe that was what we were supposed to talk about.

RL: Hoffman was asked by Commissioner Mark Smith whether Sarasota County faces an illegal immigration issue. Here’s that exchange:

Mark Smith: In your opinion, do we have an illegal immigration problem in Sarasota County? 

KH: Well, I guess it depends on what your definition of a problem is, commissioner. I can tell you, as I mentioned before, we’re not going to construction sites. I’m not going in restaurants. These are folks that have committed a violation of Florida law, or federal law in some cases, and we’ve come across them.

RL: Rene Gomez, with the Hope Community Center, drove over from Apopka — on the other side of the Sunshine State — to say people should not fear the undocumented.

Rene Gomez: I was undocumented for the first 17 years of my life. When I came to this country my parents made sure that they told me, so I knew, that I had to make sure I do good in school, make sure what the dangers are for myself.

But even with that, I wanted to contribute to my community, right? I went to college. I’m doing my master’s. And now I’m in a position to be able to speak and fight for other people who are not as lucky and not getting their citizenship status, but are being targeted and discriminated against simply because we’re called illegal aliens. I mean, it’s so dehumanizing. And I think it was in the language here in the agenda — illegal aliens — that that’s what we want to stand up for and make sure the public knows that we’re not the enemy. We’re neighbors, we’re community members. 

RL: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.


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