Muslim activists called on the Florida Legislature's Republican leaders to reconsider a proposed 'sanctuary cities' crackdown Tuesday, deriding the measure as a discriminatory attempt to score political points.

  • Muslim activists condemn proposed sanctuary city crackdown
  • Activists say political systems has turned against Muslim community
  • House Speaker Corcoran releases controversial TV ad

The activists traveled to Tallahassee from across the state for Capitol Muslim Day, an annual advocacy event during the two-month regular legislative session.

This year's gathering, however, was underscored by an especially urgent tone.

"Islamophobia's up by 500 percent, the highest it's ever been," one of the organizers, Rasha Mubarak, told a rally in the Capitol rotunda.

Between the sanctuary cities legislation and President Trump's controversial attempts to ban travelers from predominantly Muslim countries, the activists described a political system they say has turned against the Muslim community in the nation's third-largest state.

Counteracting that shift, they argued, should begin with changing hearts and minds in Tallahassee.

"We went through Muslim ban 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, but what's amazing is the community that grew from it and the community togetherness that grew from it, and I can't emphasize that enough," said Aida Mackic, a Tampa-based organizer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It created a platform for us to unite."

But if the day's exhortations were designed to sway critics, they largely fell on deaf ears.

Hours before Tuesday's rally, House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land O'Lakes), a would-be gubernatorial contender, released a television ad championing the sanctuary cities crackdown that passed the House earlier this month.

"A young woman, gunned down by an illegal immigrant who should have been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city," Corcoran said in the ad, produced by his Watchdog PAC. "I'm Richard Cocroran. When I heard about Kate Steinle's story, I thought about my own daughter, Kate."

Echoing the concerns of the Muslim activists, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, one of two cities Corcoran has urged the Department of Homeland Security to investigate for maintaining "sanctuary policies," held an afternoon press conference to denounce the speaker.

"Someone who demeans and divides us, in my opinion, disqualifies themselves for the highest office in this state," Gillum said, demanding that Corcoran pull the ad.

Regardless of the policy implications, polls have shown the politics of sanctuary cities sanctions work well for Republicans, especially those facing primary contests.

For many of the Republican members of a legislature that is significantly more conservative than Florida's down-the-middle statewide electorate, supporting the crackdown could be imperative to their political futures.

Giving the activists reason for optimism, however, was a decision Tuesday by the sponsor of the Senate's sanctuary cities bill to withdraw it from consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

With two moderate Republicans on the panel announcing their opposition, the legislation would have failed.

"As much as we want to ban certain people from coming from different countries, there is a large number of our local communities supporting one another and saying we're not going to allow this, not in our America," Mackic said.