As a strict new immigration law is set to begin in Florida, Tampa Bay police departments say that they are not currently conducting traffic stops just to check if drivers’ licenses are valid.
The law, set to take effect on July 1, no longer recognizes documents issued by other states for individuals without legal status. It also makes it a third-degree felony charge to transport those without legal status into the state, requires businesses with more than 25 employees to check workers’ immigration status on a federal database and forces hospitals that offer Medicaid to ask patients about their immigration status.
The law has raised concerns among immigrant communities regarding potential repercussions for driving without a valid license. Nanci Palacios, an advocate from Dover, has advised immigrants not to risk driving without a license and recommends driving accompanied by someone with documentation.
While the law imposes strict measures, police departments are emphasizing their commitment to serving and protecting all residents, regardless of their immigration status.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Amanda Granit affirmed that the agency does not function as immigration enforcement.
“We understand the concerns raised by the community, and it is important to note that our deputies are not immigration agents,” Granit told the Tampa Bay Times. “We are dedicated to maintaining a positive relationship with the community we serve.”
Clearwater Police Chief Daniel W. Slaughter stated that his department is currently evaluating the new law, but assured the public that his officers do not engage in unlawful stops or inquire about individuals’ immigration status.
“We, as an agency, do not engage in the unlawful stopping of immigrants and asking for their identification,” Slaughter said. “Nothing in the bill promotes such activities.”
Meanwhile, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office clarified that it would enforce only select aspects of the law, primarily focused on state-issued licenses and guidance provided by the state of Florida. Additionally, deputies would only address the provision related to transporting immigrants without legal status if it arises during other investigations.
“The only thing I have seen is about what state-issued licenses are to be considered valid going forward after July 1. As I understand it, the state [of Florida] will be providing direction regarding that,” department spokesperson Scott Wilder said.
“Because we don’t conduct immigrant enforcement, that provision would only come into effect if it was discovered during another type of investigation we typically conduct, such as drug trafficking,” said Wilder.
According to the Tampa Police Department, the new law would not alter its officers’ operational approach.
“From the standpoint of a law enforcement agency, it is the officers’ job to enforce the law, not make them,” a Tampa Police spokesperson said.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway confirmed that his department has not developed new policies or guidelines specifically related to the immigration law. Similarly, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office clarified that it has not increased patrols or initiated checks on immigration status, emphasizing its adherence to the law as written.
“We follow the law as written,” spokesman Dave Brenn said.