SHALIMAR — Gov. Ron DeSantis called the sanctuary cities bill he came to Okaloosa County to sign Friday a “very simple” document written to ensure that federal officials know Floridians stand behind them in their effort to deport illegal immigrant lawbreakers.
“Our state’s policy will be that we work with the federal government so we can remove these people from our cities,” DeSantis told a thoroughly supportive crowd at the county's Administration Building. “Florida, as a whole, we’re going to cooperate to insure the safety of our communities.”
The governor had come to the little town of Shalimar to sign a document known in legislative parlance as the Federal Immigration Enforcement bill, although dubbed by most a ban on sanctuary cities. The new law is touted as the strongest sanctuary cities ban in the country.
DeSantis lent no particular significance to his decision to sign the controversial document in conservative Northwest Florida.
“I haven’t done any bill signing here. This was a good opportunity,” he told reporters.
DeSantis couldn’t have asked for a more accommodating crowd. Some people arrived before 8 a.m. in anticipation of his arrival. By shortly after 10, when the governor made his way to a podium in the County Commission’s meeting room, more than 300 were waiting in a room that seats 220 to greet him with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Newlyweds Jon and Elizabeth Peters said they were proud of DeSantis for signing the sanctuary cities bill. Jon Peters said he believes sanctuary cities only invite immigrants to enter and stay in the country illegally.
“It should be a no-brainer thing,” said Peters, who sported a “Make America Great Again” cap. “Only legal citizens should live in America. Sanctuary cities directly contradict that law, and so it makes sense to outlaw them.”
“I think it’s simple, like cutting in line,” his wife added. “There are so many people waiting to get in this country the right way. That’s how it’s always been, and I don’t see why it should change and why people are so up in arms upset that that’s what we want, for them to do it the right way.”
Mike Delay, a Pensacola resident who said he came to hear more about the governor’s agenda, said that as a retired law enforcement officer he sees the sanctuary cities legislation as important.
“I think everyone should obey the law,” he said. “When you come into the country illegally, right off the bat you’re breaking the law because you’re here without going through the proper channels.”
In signing the sanctuary cities bill, DeSantis said he was acting on a promise he’d made when running for governor: to do what could be done at the state level to fight illegal immigration.
Sanctuary cities, he said, “basically create a law-free zone” for illegal immigrants and allow “preventable” crimes to occur that impact real families.
The lawl takes affect July 1.
Accompanying DeSantis, along with a host of dignitaries, were Kyan and Bobby Michael, whose son Brandon was killed in 2007 by an illegal immigrant twice deported and driving without license or registration.
“The government at that time did nothing to help our son. We’re thankful for this governor and thankful for our lawmakers,” Bobby Michael said.
Congressman Matt Gaetz was also in attendance and praised DeSantis for his willingness to fight for the rule of law.
Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said DeSantis had shown himself to be a governor willing to take bold steps to make a positive impact in people's lives, and drew loud applause when he listed the suspension of Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson as one of those steps.
He claimed 5,000 people are “showing up every day” at the United States border and “the policies we have really are catch and release.”
“If you don’t think borders matter, look at East and West Germany or North and South Korea,” Gaetz said.
He said for the United States, creating a strong border sends a message.
“Good strong borders show people that this place is something special and unique in all of history,” Gaetz said. “Other states are willing to let their borders erode and lose their meaning, but the state that others look to will today sign a bill banning illegal sanctuary cities.”
Also speaking Friday's event were state Sen. Joe Gruters, state Sen. Doug Broxson and state Rep. Cord Byrd. Byrd and Gruters, who is also the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, sponsored the House and Senate versions of the sanctuary cities bill.
Byrd said the sanctuary cities bill serves to enhance “the governor’s authority to remove wayward politicians from office.”
At a news conference held after the event, DeSantis said his office would not attempt to remove officials who had offered protections to illegal immigrants before the sanctuary cities ban became law, but might consider such sanctions against officials who violate the new law.
A handful of protesters did show up to make their feelings known. They held signs opposing the bill outside the County Commission chambers after they were told they were not allowed to bring them inside.
One protester, Deborah Baker-Ryan, said she believed sanctuary cities were a “necessary product of our unfair immigration laws.”
Cay Burton, who was standing beside Baker-Ryan holding a sign reading “Immigrants built (build) America!” agreed.
“They have to live in the cities where they are working and if you don’t have the sanctuary status then they won’t be able to talk to the police when things are happening and they won’t be able to get any health care when they need it,” Kay Burton said. “It’s a really bad, inhumane situation without the sanctuary status.”
“Immigrants help pick our food and get them to markets so we can buy it,” she added. “A lot of them are tax-paying citizens, people who are doing everything they need to do just like everybody else. We need to have a place where they can come and be a part of America and make America great.”
Daily News staff writer Heather Osbourne contributed to this report