Key West Affirms Support For Undocumented Immigrants

May 16, 2017

Key West has long prided itself on its all-welcome ethos and has an official city motto of "One Human Family."

Tuesday, the City Commission approved a resolution affirming those values and vowing that all city services would remain accessible to all residents "regardless of immigration status." The resolution also stated that the city would not investigate or help investigate immigration status unless it was required to by state or federal law.

The resolution stopped short of declaring Key West a sanctuary city. Such cities are now the target of hostility from the federal government, with President Donald Trump signing an executive order withholding federal aid from sanctuary cities. That order is blocked while it is being challenged in court.

Eight people spoke in favor of the resolution and none against it at the commission meeting.

Samari Aragon was born in Key West. Her parents, undocumented immigrants from Central America, came to the Keys while her mother was pregnant with her.

"My family wasn't blessed with the advantages of being born in America. I'm the first and only one who has been [born in the U.S.]," she said. "What my family and I were blessed with was a community that loved us without expectation, helped us without return and most importantly welcomed us without hesitation."

City Commissioner Sam Kaufman recounted growing up with his grandparents, immigrants from Russia. And he said he sees the immigration story playing out today with his son's friends.

"Where else but Key West could my son have his best friends, one Vietnamese, one Muslim Uzbeki and the other of Bahamian and Haitian heritage?"

Kaufman said he wanted kids who are undocumented themselves, or have parents who are undocumented immigrants, to feel safe in Key West.

"I want them to know that we care about them. And we care that they feel that they are as part of this community as anyone else," he said.

The resolution passed by a vote of 5-2. Both commissioners who voted against it said they did not think it was necessary.

"I haven't seen a clear definition of a problem that this resolution hopes to solve," said Commissioner Margaret Romero. "In a way, if I vote for this, I am throwing water in the face of all folks who are lawful and responsible. ... I want to see adherence to our law. That's what I signed up to uphold."

Commissioner Richard Payne is a retired circuit judge. He said he found the resolution to be "perfectly written" — because it did not contain the word sanctuary.

"It says we won't be enforcing federal law, which the 10th Amendment says that we're not required to enforce," he said. "That's the federal people's job. Not the state. Not the city."

During the legislative session that just ended, the Florida House of Representatives approved a proposed law that would have outlawed "sanctuary cities" and punished cities that flouted such a ban by withholding state grant funding, fining cities up to $5,000 a day and empowering the governor to remove defiant officials from office.

A companion bill died in the Florida Senate.