Activists want Pinellas Co. deemed “welcoming county” for illegal residents

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Local activists are pushing leaders in Pinellas County to pass resolutions supporting “welcoming cities.”

It comes weeks after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to block state funding to so called “sanctuary cities.”

Organizers with Awake Pinellas said they want to see a resolution that would protect families that have been here for decades and are a part of the community.

Activists say it’s not about harboring criminals.

“We’re coming together on Valentine’s Day to say ‘love thy neighbor,’” said Kofi Hunt, with Awake Pinellas. “Sanctuary counties and welcoming counties are actually beneficial for the communities they live in.”

Leaders with Awake Pinellas, Florida Labor Council and Council on American-Islamic Relations, stood together in solidarity on the steps of St. Pete City Hall.

They said they’re protecting human rights.

“There’s less crime in welcoming counties.  There’s also a higher average of income in welcoming counties, there’s less rate of poverty,” said Hunt.

CAIR Chief Executive Director Hassan Shibly, Esq. said he’s spoken to dozens of families that are scared, many from the countries on President Trump’s travel ban.

“Just as we worked in Hillsborough County, we’re working in Pinellas County, calling for the county to establish itself as a ‘welcoming county’ and make all its residents, regardless of how they got here, regardless of their race or their religion, or ethnicity, feel welcome and safe,” said Shibly.

St. Petersburg officials expressed they are a “welcoming city.”

But, the jail is run by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who abides by federal law.

Shibly said, “As an elected official, he has the responsibility to listen to the will of the people.”

“I have a responsibility to enforce the law and I follow the law, I don’t make the law,” Sheriff Gualtieri said.  “And I have a responsibility that Pinellas County stays safe and that all the people stay safe.”

The sheriff said his deputies are not rounding up innocent people.

“If we come in contact with people who are in Pinellas County and are here illegally and committing crimes, then we will do our part at the request of I.C.E. to notify them,” he said.

Florida lawmakers filed an Anti-Sanctuary bill last week.

If passed, it would prohibit local municipalities from creating a sanctuary ordinance.

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