Says Florida had five sanctuary cities while Jeb Bush was governor.

Donald Trump on Saturday, July 11th, 2015 in a speech at a political rally in Phoenix

Trump says Florida had five 'sanctuary cities' when Jeb Bush was governor

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters during a political rally at the Phoenix Convention Center on July 11, 2015, in Phoenix.

Donald Trump criticized GOP primary rival Jeb Bush’s stance on immigration, implying the former governor allowed parts of Florida to shield illegal immigrants from federal laws while Bush was in office.

"The polls just came out, and I'm tied with Jeb Bush. And I said, oh, that's too bad, how can I be tied with this guy? He's terrible. He's terrible. He's weak on immigration," Trump said during a speech in Phoenix on July 11, 2015. "You know, the sanctuary cities, do you know he had five of them in Florida while he was governor? Can you believe this? I didn't know that."

Trump was practically tied with Bush according to a poll released the same day. But more importantly, Trump seized upon an increasingly used talking point in the presidential campaign --  so-called "sanctuary cities" that thwart federal immigration law.

Bush’s stance on illegal immigration has wavered a bit over the years, but he was known for being in favor of deportation while in the Governor’s Mansion. Did five sanctuary cities exist in Florida during his time in office? Not according to any official metric, but the Internet is a big place.

Sanctuary cities

There is no specific legal definition of sanctuary cities, but it generally refers to places where local law enforcement officers aren’t required to alert federal authorities to residents who may be in the country illegally.

The easiest sanctuary cities to identify are those with formal written policies.

The recent shooting death of a San Francisco woman, allegedly by a Mexican native with a criminal record, has sparked a debate over rules like San Francisco’s quarter-century-old law declaring it a "city and county of refuge." The San Francisco law generally bans public employees from assisting Immigration and Customs Enforcement with investigations or arrests unless required by a law or a warrant. There is an exception for people convicted of felonies.

The term appears to have roots in the 1980s, when Central American refugees fled civil wars and were initially denied asylum. Religious institutions banded together to protect the refugees, with some cities expressing solidarity with the "Sanctuary Movement," according to a 2011 paper by the Immigration Policy Council. But before then, starting in the 1970s, some cities started policies banning police from asking about the immigration status of people who hadn’t been arrested.

We reached out to Trump’s campaign and didn’t hear back; Bush’s people had no comment, either. So we went in search of lists of sanctuary cities.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service published a 2006 report listing 31 cities and counties that "will generally promote policies that ensure such aliens will not be turned over to federal authorities." No Florida cities were included.

We also found websites that had put together their own lists, such as a 2007 list created by the Ohio Jobs and Justice PAC. Steve Salvi, the group’s founder, is critical of sanctuary cities and claims to have created the most comprehensive list of its kind. It was most recently updated in July 2015 and includes five Florida locations: 

  • DeLeon Springs;

  • Deltona;

  • Jupiter;

  • Lake Worth, and

  • Miami.

Salvi told us that he culled the list by looking at news reports and input from local citizens. The requirements for the list are very loose -- cities could have provided services to illegal immigrants, or have leaders who promoted immigration reform. 

We found a few problems with the list. DeLeon Springs isn’t even a town, but part of unincorporated Volusia County. The county sheriff’s department oversees law enforcement there and in Deltona. The Deltona city attorney and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department both said Deltona had never had such a policy since being incorporated in 1995.

Officials in Jupiter and Lake Worth, which Salvi added to the list  in 2009 (after Bush left office), said they aren’t sanctuary cities. Both cities have day-labor centers, which could be why they landed on the list. However, the existence of such centers for illegal immigrants to look for work doesn’t tell us anything about whether police cooperate with immigration authorities.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado denies that his city is a sanctuary city, either now or when Bush was in office. 

"Do police enforce immigration? No, we never have. .... Officially, we don’t protect immigrants or deliver immigrants (to federal officials)," Regalado said.

Current policies

The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors stricter immigration laws, regularly updates a map on its website detailing sanctuary cities, counties and states. It also lists why a location is included.

As of this writing, the map listed seven Florida counties: Broward, Hernando, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pasco and Pinellas. The center told PolitiFact it based its map on U.S. Department of Homeland Security data from 2014 (years after Bush left office).

Under a former program called Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement got fingerprints from suspects, and if they had violated immigration laws, the agency asked local authorities to detain them. But some local officials complained that immigrants who were victims of crimes were avoiding the police, so the officials refused to comply with the ICE detainers. The federal agency announced a new more targeted program in November.

In Florida, six of seven counties’ sheriff’s departments adopted policies in 2014 to no longer honor those "detainer" requests unless there is a legal order to do so.

Miami-Dade County stopped complying with the requests a year earlier, in 2013. The Miami-Dade County Commission adopted the policy because the jail had to bear most of the detentions’ cost, and because immigration advocates clamored for the change. Now, arrested illegal immigrants are detained only if they have an outstanding warrant.

What could Bush or any governor do to deter sanctuary cities? It seems like the Legislature would have had to have acted, and we didn’t find any action on the matter during Bush’s time. 

In 2008, after Bush left office, a bill that would have prevented sanctuary cities in Florida died in the Legislature, when Sen. Marco Rubio was then speaker of the House. The bill would have prohibited statewide any sort of government restrictions on disclosing someone’s immigration status in several scenarios, including employment or issuing public benefits. It also would have required all public employees to work with federal agencies to comply with federal immigration laws.

Our ruling

Trump said Florida had five sanctuary cities while Bush was governor. 

There’s no legal definition of a sanctuary city, and therefore no official classification. A federal report from 2006, when Bush was governor, didn’t name any Florida cities. We found one list on the Internet that claimed five Florida locations as current sanctuary cities, but the supporting evidence was virtually nonexistent. City officials told us they weren’t sure why their cities were on the list.

For lack of evidence, we rate Trump’s statement False.