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Capital Report

Immigration proposal debated in senate

By James Call

Tallahassee, FL – The Florida Senate has revised an immigration bill to among other things make it easier for employers to qualify immigrants for work. James Call reports the proposal was released in the morning and drew numerous speakers during an afternoon hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The first three speakers at a public hearing on the proposal expressed support for cracking down illegal immigration and credited Governor Rick Scott for bringing attention to the issue. Scott used immigration as the keystone in his primary campaign victory and now Tea Party supporters are urging the Legislature to follow his lead. Senate President Mike Haridopolos frames undocumented foreign residents in the context of Florida's estimated four billion dollar budget shortfall. He says much of his attention is focused on producing a balanced state budget and he is looking for savings anywhere he can find it.

"100 million dollars. A hundred million dollars. Remember that discussion we had two weeks ago. At least five thousand prisoners in our prison system are undocumented and that means because the federal government failed us we have to pay 100 million dollars to incarcerate these people who have broken the law in Florida. And maybe we should send that bill up to Washington maybe they pay that bill for us."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is working on a measure to address Haridopolos' monetary concerns about locking up people who are in the country illegally. Monday the committee unveiled making it state policy to release undocumented nonviolent prisoners to the federal government. It would also allow police to check the immigration status of anyone under investigation. The proposal was released shortly before Monday's afternoon meeting. Jose Luis Marantes is the son of Cuban immigrants and thinks the Legislature's efforts are misguided.

"This is a global state. This is an international state. This is a state where people come from all over the to make a life to enjoy our shores to enjoy the life we have here. And I am totally shocked and appalled. When I saw how fast this legislation is moving through the legislature. It is our time now as Latinos and people to all come together from across Florida regardless of race class to come
together to find solutions."

Research by Senate staff estimates there were 835 thousand unauthorized immigrants living in in Florida 2010. The state has the country's 3rd largest undocumented immigration population. The Senate's latest version of a proposal would allow a valid Florida drivers' license as a way for someone to demonstrate they are a legal resident. It became apparent during a January hearing that the federal e-verify system wasn't up to the job. Here, Senator Alan Hays expressed the frustration employers told them they had. E verify can be used only after someone has been offered a job.

"And the e verify comes back and tells me they are not eligible to be hired. And I get that information two days later. And that I have to go to that employer and tell him, I'm sorry you are out of here. Then they go down and file for unemployment. And my business get tagged for the unemployment tax increase. That is that is full of useless information."

Sponsors of several bills are trying to craft what they call an Arizona-lite policy to curb the Flow of unauthorized foreigners into Florida. Part of that state's immigration law was struck down because of racial profiling issues. Florida lawmakers are trying to enable police to enforce immigration laws while also addressing the court's concerns. Senator Arthenia Joyner participated in a news conference by civil rights and worker advocacy groups to protest the proposal she said she thinks lawmakers are wasting time on this issue.

"This is not Arizona. This is Florida. This is where the sun shines freely and everyone is welcomed. We don't need it at this time and I will do everything I can to stop legislation that comes about that imposes immigration type policies on our people here. Number one the folks who pick the tomatoes and the strawberries are the backbone of this state."

Miami Senator Anitere Flores has the lead on the Senate's effort to crack down on illegal immigration in Florida. She opened the public hearing on the proposal by saying she wants the judiciary committee to work towards a consensus. She said a committee vote on a proposal will be scheduled.