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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 21, 2014

Democratic Hispanic group says Carlos Lopez-Cantera "staunchly supported" an immigration enforcement bill

Gov. Rick Scott named former House Republican leader and Miami-Dade property appraiser Carlos López-Cantera as his lieutenant governor and runningmate on Jan. 14, 2014.

López-Cantera was born in Spain to Cuban parents and lives in a county with a large number of Hispanic voters. Democrats dove into López-Cantera’s past record on immigration and launched immediate attacks, including about a controversial 2011 proposal known as the Florida Immigration Enforcement Act (HB 7089).

"In 2011, Lopez-Cantera staunchly supported HB 7089, the anti-immigrant bill modeled after the racial profiling Arizona law, which Rick Scott embraced during his first governor's race," said the Miami-Dade chapter of the Democratic Hispanic caucus of Florida in a Jan. 16 press release. "Lopez-Cantera called it a ‘common sense’ and ‘reasonable’ bill in a press release on March 10, 2011." The Florida Democratic Party launched a similar attack.

We wanted to know, did López-Cantera "staunchly support" House Bill 7089?

López-Cantera’s comments about an Arizona-style law in 2010

During his Republican primary in 2010, Scott vowed to bring an Arizona-style law to Florida.

"Rick Scott backs Arizona’s law; he'll bring it to Florida and let our police check if the people they arrest are here legally. That’s common sense," his campaign said.

Signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, that law requires police who stop a person to verify their immigration status if they reasonably suspect the person of being in the country illegally. (The U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the law in 2012.)

The law became a focal point of a hotly contested Republican primary between Scott and then Attorney General Bill McCollum as they battled for conservative voters. In May 2010, McCollum announced he would support an Arizona-style law.

Though Scott strongly supported the measure as a candidate, he abandoned it once he became governor. PolitiFact Florida rated the campaign pledge a Promise Broken on our Scott-O-Meter, a database of his campaign promises.

Back during the 2010 campaign, the Miami Herald interviewed Hispanic legislators, including López-Cantera, about McCollum’s support for the Arizona law.

"As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think Florida has a problem like Arizona does," López-Cantera said. "I realize there’s a problem in Arizona. They have a serious problem, but I don't think you can compare it to Florida."

In August 2010, López-Cantera told the Tampa Bay Times: "I am concerned that this could jeopardize civil liberties."

The topic of immigration reform remained a concern for López-Cantera after Scott won the primary, and it appeared the two had a conversation about it.

"I asked about the issue going forward, and he (Scott) said immigration is an issue, but the more pressing one is jobs and the economy," López-Cantera told the Miami Herald in September 2010.

Immigration bills during 2011 session

López-Cantera served as the state House majority leader and would have to deal with a range of Republican viewpoints on immigration reform: both hardliners who wanted a crackdown and some Hispanic lawmakers and constituents who viewed such a push as anti-Hispanic.

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During the 2011 session, legislators introduced the Florida Immigration Enforcement Act as HB 7089 and a similar bill in the Senate, SB 2040. The bills were not identical to Arizona’s law, but for immigrant advocates it raised fears that it would increase racial profiling. Some business-backed groups also raised concerns because there was a component that related to employers.

The House bill would have required police to check the immigration status of a person subject of a criminal investigation if the police had "reasonable suspicion" the person was in the country illegally. Also, employers would be required to check workers’ immigration status. The Senate counterpart didn’t go as far and only let police police check the status of an inmate -- not a person only under investigation -- and it gave some wiggle room to employers.

In March 2011, the House judiciary committee passed the bill 12-6.

López-Cantera, Miami-Dade’s delegation chair, wasn’t a member of that committee. But in his press release after the vote he spoke positively about the law but didn’t specifically state how he would vote on it:

"Chairman Snyder and the Judiciary Committee recognize the unique and diverse history of our state and have worked hard to bring all stakeholders to the table to produce this piece of common sense, Florida immigration reform. This legislation is designed to preserve employment opportunities for Floridians through the use of the E-Verify system.

"The bill does not require law enforcement officers to ask individuals for immigration documentation during routine traffic stops. It does, however, give law enforcement officers the tools necessary to enforce the immigration laws of the United States."

"I look forward to watching this reasonable and effective approach to immigration reform work its way through the legislative process."

Activists opposing the bills turned up the heat and particularly targeted López-Cantera and Sen. Anitere Flores, a sponsor of the Senate bill and another Hispanic Republican from Miami-Dade.

In April, left-leaning and Hispanic groups announced they would launch Spanish-language radio ads calling out the two legislators. Groups also held a protest in front of López-Cantera’s office.

While the attacks were going on, the Herald reported that López-Cantera was now against the House measure and planned to vote against it as well. "Florida doesn’t need an immigration law," he said in April 2011.

The Senate passed a version of the bill, but the full House never took a vote. The measure was dead by the end of the session.

We asked for evidence from the Miami-Dade group that made the claim but didn’t hear back. However Joshua Karp, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, said there was a period of time when López-Cantera supported the bill but later flip-flopped.

We were unsuccessful at getting a direct response from López-Cantera. A spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida sent us a statement arguing that Florida’s proposed bill was different from the Arizona law and repeated this line from López-Cantera’s press release:

"The bill does not require law enforcement officers to ask individuals for immigration documentation during routine traffic stops."

Our ruling

The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida’s Miami-Dade chapter that stated López-Cantera "staunchly supported" a bill modeled after Arizona’s immigration law.

López-Cantera never had to take a vote on the bill, so the only evidence we can evaluate is his statements about the bill. At first, López-Cantera said he looked forward to "watching this reasonable and effective approach to immigration reform work its way through the legislative process." That’s a positive statement, but hardly "staunch" support.

But as protesters turned up the heat on López-Cantera, he became decidedly opposed, saying "Florida doesn’t need an immigration law."

We rate this claim Mostly False.

Our Sources

Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida Miami-Dade County chapter press release, "Rick Scott wants the Hispanic vote but does not deserve it," Jan. 16, 2014

Florida Democratic Party press release, "Wrong for Florida: Just like Rick Scott, Carlos Lopez-Cantera supported Arizona-style immigration laws," Jan. 2014

Florida House, Judiciary committee vote on HB7089, March 10, 2011

Florida Senate, SB2040, Senate vote May 4, 2011

Florida House Majority Office, Statement by House Majority Leader on Florida Immigration Enforcement Act, March 10, 2011

Facebook, We are Florida! post about rally, April 16, 2011

Hispanic legislative caucus, May 3, 2011

Miami Herald, "Radio ads turn up heat on immigration," April 20, 2011

Miami Herald, "Activists avow court fight against anti-immigration legislation," April 21, 2011

Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times, "Immigration crackdown moves in Florida House," March 11, 2014

Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog, "McCollum’s Cuban supporters ok with his stand on Arizona’s immigration law," May 13, 2010

Tampa Bay Times, "McCollum unveils bill on illegals," Aug. 12, 2010

Miami Herald, "Hispanics urge Rick Scott: reduce immigration emphasis," Sept. 1, 2010

Miami Herald Naked Politics blog, "Rick Scott’s LG, Lopez-Cantera, is a deal-making loyalist, Marco Rubio-pal," Jan. 19, 2014

Palm Beach Post, "Immigration debate: Bill splits GOP, Cuban-American base," April 23, 2011

New York Times, "Supreme Court decision on Arizona immigration law," June 25, 2012

PolitiFact Scott-O-Meter, Bring Arizona’s immigration law to Florida, Most recent update June 25, 2012

Interview, John Tupps, spokeswoman for Republican Party of Florida, Jan. 17, 2014

Interview, Joshua Karp, spokesman Florida Democratic Party, Jan. 16, 2014

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Democratic Hispanic group says Carlos Lopez-Cantera "staunchly supported" an immigration enforcement bill

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