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After Banning Sanctuary Cities, Florida Lawmakers Pursue E-Verify For Employers

Sign with the words "now hiring" stands in the grass near a street.
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Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota) and Rep. Cord Byrd (R-Jacksonville Beach) have filed compromise bills that would require public employers - not private - to use E-Verify for potential hires.

Original Story: 

Florida lawmakers banned sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants last year. Now, Governor Ron DeSantis wants all employers to use the federal E-Verify system to make sure their workers are legally eligible to work in the United States.

Previous efforts requiring private employers to use E-Verify have failed in Florida, and Republican lawmakers are trying again.

DeSantis signed a hotly debated bill last June that bans sanctuary cities in Florida. Months later, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Gruters, (R-Sarasota) joined the governor in The Villages to praise the legislation.

“We’re not anti-immigrant. We’re anti-illegal immigrant,” Gruters said to applause from the crowd. “All 67 counties in the entire state have enacted the sanctuary city ban, and they’re complying, and they’re cooperating with federal authorities. It works.”

Gruters is also behind a new bill requiring businesses to use E-Verify, which DeSantis calls a good next step for immigration reform.

“We had a big win with doing the sanctuary cities legislation. We want to build off that momentum,” DeSantis said. “I think the best way to help deter illegal immigration is to pursue E-Verify.”

DeSantis believes E-Verify will lead to higher wages because employers will no longer be able to hire undocumented workers on the cheap. Rep. Cord Byrd (R- Jacksonville Beach) agrees and plans to file an E-Verify bill in the House.

“Illegal labor impacts the wages of everybody, and it drives wages down,” Byrd said. “As we talk about trying to increase wages in so many areas, this is one way that we can impact that.”

Byrd’s bill will likely be similar to one already filed in the Senate that would require all businesses to use the federal database to verify employment eligibility.

“The sponsors of the E-Verify bill are apparently presumably trying to deliver on a campaign promise by the governor and a campaign promise by the White House without regard to detriment to families,” said Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville). She worries the bill could have a chilling effect on a workforce that helps boost Florida’s economy, like farmers and hospitality workers.

Florida’s agriculture, tourism, and construction industries have long expressed concerns about E-Verify and have fiercely opposed attempts by the legislature to require it. Senate President Bill Galvano, (R-Bradenton) is on their side. He says the mandate creates an extra burden for employers.

“There are challenges or issues that have been raised by many of our job creators in the state of Florida, from the tourist industry to the ag community,” Galvano said.

Under the Senate bill, employers would lose all applicable licenses to do business if they don’t register with the E-Verify system. 

House Speaker Jose Oliva (R-Hialeah) hasn’t weighed in on whether he’ll support the legislation.

WFSU reporter Blaise Gainey and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.