Joe Gruters

Florida State Senator

Despite having only been in his current office for less than a year, Florida Sen. Joe Gruters was instrumental in getting anti-sanctuary bill SB-168 passed. Gruters worked closely on the bill with a host of local and national anti-immigrant groups.

  • Gruters served in the Florida House between 2016-2018 before being elected to the Senate in November of 2018.
  • In December of 2018, Gruters introduced an anti-sanctuary bill, SB 168, despite the fact that there are no so-called “sanctuary cities” in Florida. Another identical bill by Sen. Bean was also introduced.
  • According to emails obtained by The News Service of Florida, Gruters worked directly with Dave Caulkett from the anti-immigrant group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN), in the drafting of SB 168. Caulkett told The News Service of Florida, “Of course we helped. How influential we were? I don’t know. I can’t say.”
  • The bill closely resembled model legislation sent by FLIMEN to elected officials via email in 2016, according to emails obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
  • Gruters relied on facts and figures from both FAIR and CIS to justify the legislation, even after Caulkett told him in an email not to publicize the information in case there would be backlash during testimony on the bill.
  • A further email obtained by the Herald-Tribune indicated that FAIR staff worked with FLIMEN to provide advice to Gruters staff on how to “defend the sanctuary bill against critics.” Gruters attempted to distance himself from FAIR, a group founded by white nationalist John Tanton, stating, “This should not be about race; this is about protecting the rule of law in our country. I don’t want to deal with anybody who has hate in their heart and in my brief interactions with these guys they’ve never said anything hateful.”
  • Gruters’ bill was signed into law by his ally, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in June of 2019. DeSantis stated in the signing ceremony, “[s]anctuary cities basically create law-free zones where people can come to our state illegally and our country illegally, commit criminal offenses and then just walk right out the door and continue to do it… In Florida, that will not happen.”
  • Gruters went on a tour of the U.S./Mexico border and produced a mini-documentary before announcing his plans for a “listening tour” of Florida to hear what residents have to say about immigration. The tour was later scrapped.
  • Gruters also announced plans to introduce E-Verify legislation during the next Florida legislative session.
  • FLIMEN endorsed Gruters bid for the Florida Senate back in 2018, writing, “Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN) enthusiastically endorses Joe Gruters for Florida Senate, District 23. Joe Gruters sponsored a mandatory E-Verify bill in his freshman year as a State Representative. This ACTION separates Joe Gruters from others who PROMISE to support immigration but far too often renege on their campaign rhetoric.”
  • During the signing ceremony for his anti-sanctuary bill, Gruters told reporters he wanted to, “mak[e] sure we protect American citizens from the very bad, criminal illegal aliens that are here committing the worst crimes imaginable.”
  • In a July 2019 piece in the Englewood Sun, Gruters wrote, “The only problem is that after a certain point the barrier just ends and there is a gaping hole allowing illegal immigrants to come and go at will. They can be anybody. Families looking for a better life. Or drug and sex trafficers looking to wreak havoc on our country.”
  • In a tweet announcing his new mini-documentary about his visit to the U.S./Mexico border, Gruters wrote, “I just returned from the US-Mexico border and saw firsthand the illegal immigration crisis threatening America. Our system is shot and Washington continues to fail us. Every member of Congress should be required to visit the border before spouting off on the subject.”
  • Gruters attended a press event to drum up support for his bill organized by FLIMEN. Two anti-immigrant groups participated in the press conference, Legal Immigrants for America (LIFA) and a representative from The Remembrance Project, founded by Maria Espinoza. At the press event, Amapola Hansberger of LIFA claimed, “[undocumented people] will kill you.”
  • In 2019, Gruters hung a sign outside his office with the title, “Faces of Criminal Aliens Deported from Sarasota County.” The sign showed the photos of dozens of individuals, mainly people of color, with the words “Criminal Aliens” in a larger red font. It was quickly denounced as racist by immigrant rights groups. Gruters dismissed the accusations.
  • Following the passage of Gruters’ anti-sanctuary law, the ACLU issued a travel advisory for immigrants of color to take precautions when traveling in the state. Gruters responded by attacking the ACLU, “You talk about fearmongering and upping the rhetoric even more? That’s one way to do it,” and calling the travel advisory, “borderline race-baiting” and “misguided at best.”
  • Gruters has also vocally opposed providing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in the state of Florida.