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In a competitive Republican state senate primary, an ad inaccurately attacks state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen's record on sanctuary cities. In a competitive Republican state senate primary, an ad inaccurately attacks state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen's record on sanctuary cities.

In a competitive Republican state senate primary, an ad inaccurately attacks state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen's record on sanctuary cities.

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 10, 2020

Ad wrongly says Florida Republican refused to ban sanctuary cities

If Your Time is short

  • Florida state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, actually supports banning sanctuary cities. 

  • She was absent for a 2018 vote banning sanctuary cities but voted for a sanctuary cities ban in 2019.

An ad in a Florida Senate primary race portrays Republican Heather Fitzenhagen as a liberal who ignored an immigration enforcement priority of President Donald Trump.

"Fitzenhagen turned her back on President Trump, refusing to ban sanctuary cities," says the narrator.

The ad makes a series of other claims about her record on immigration and abortion, calling her "Planned Parenthood’s favorite politician." We wanted to focus on the sanctuary cities attack given its importance in Florida and to President Donald Trump, who promised to cancel all funding to sanctuary cities but did not do it

The ad is sponsored by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which backs state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, for the Senate seat. Fitzenhagen, of Fort Myers, was running in a crowded primary for Congress but then switched at the last minute to challenge Rodrigues in the August primary.

In attacking Fitzhagen’s sanctuary cities record, the admakers focused on a vote that Fitzhagen missed and ignored a later bill that she supported.

Fitzenhagen’s votes on sanctuary cities

There’s no federal definition for a sanctuary city, and the details vary from place to place.

Broadly speaking, the term refers to any jurisdiction that refuses to continue holding people in local jails beyond their jail or prison sentence solely because federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement has asked the jurisdiction to do so. (ICE’s request is formally known as a detainer.)

In Florida, legislators debated various sanctuary cities bans starting before Trump took office and ultimately passed one in 2019.

The ad cites a 2018 House vote on a sanctuary cities bill, HB 9, that would have required state and local governments and law enforcement agencies to support and cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The final vote passed along party lines with Republican support 71-35. It died in the Senate. 

Featured Fact-check

So how did Fitzhagen vote? She didn’t. Fitzenhagen told us that she was absent because her father was in the hospital. 

The next year, state Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, sponsored SB 168 to ban sanctuary cities. At the outset of the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis called on legislators to "prohibit sanctuary cities in Florida."

The bill required local law enforcement and state agencies to honor a federal enforcement’s request for an immigration detainer. The bill also gave the state Attorney General the power to pursue civil action against any entity that violates the law. A spokesperson for the attorney general told PolitiFact that the office had not received any complaints that merited action.

Fitzenhagen voted in favor of SB 168 on May 1, 2019, and it passed 69-45. The bill then passed a vote in the state Senate and returned to the House for final passage. Fitzenhagen voted in favor of it again

"I support prohibiting sanctuary cities," Fitzenhagen told us in an email. "Further, I fully stand behind my vote on SB 168 from 2019, which is a strong immigration bill that supports Trump’s federal immigration mandates and bans sanctuary cities."

We also found that Fitzenhagen voted in support of bills that would have prohibited sanctuary cities in 2016 and 2017. A spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said those bills were not included since they did not become law. 

Our ruling

An ad said that Fitzenhagen "turned her back on President Trump, refusing to ban sanctuary cities."

The ad cites a vote on a sanctuary cities bill that Fitzenhagen was absent for in 2018. It’s not accurate to say that because Fitzenhagen was absent for a vote that she refused to ban sanctuary cities. Fitzenhagen told us that she missed the vote because her father was in the hospital.

Counter to the ad’s message, Fitzenhagen voted in favor of a sanctuary cities ban in 2019.

We rate this statement False. 

Our Sources

Florida House, HB 9 vote 501, 2018

Florida Senate, SB 168, 2019

Florida House, HB 675, 2016

Florida House, HB 697, 2017

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Governor DeSantis’ State of the State Address, March 5, 2019

Florida Politics, Senate Republicans put ‘Planned Parenthood favorite’ Heather Fitzenhagen on blast, June 26, 2020

Florida Politics, Ray Rodrigues ready for ‘next chapter,’ announces state Senate bid, May 16, 2019

Florida Politics, Heather Fitzenhagen files for SD 27, setting up clash with Ray Rodrigues, June 13, 2020

AP, Florida House passes bill aimed at 'sanctuary cities,' Jan. 12, 2018

Miami Herald, House passes 'sanctuary city' ban, but it appears dead in the Senate; Jan. 12, 2018

Florida Times-Union, GOP senator seeks ban on ‘sanctuary cities,’ Feb. 11, 2019

Tampa Bay Times, Florida ‘sanctuary cities’ bill clears second hurdle, but it gets ugly, March 13, 2019

Tampa Bay Times, Ban on ‘sanctuary cities’ to become Florida law after anguished debate, May 2, 2019

PolitiFact’s Trump-O-Meter, Despite efforts, Donald Trump fails to cut funding from sanctuary cities, Jan. 14, 2019

PolitiFact, No sanctuary cities in Florida? That’s not as settled as Andrew Gillum claims, Feb. 22, 2018

Email interview, Lyndsey Blagrave, spokesperson for state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen’s senate campaign, July 1, 2020

Email interview, Erin Isaac, spokesperson for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, July 1, 2020

Email interview, Whitney Ray, Florida attorney General spokesperson, July 7, 2020

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Ad wrongly says Florida Republican refused to ban sanctuary cities

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