© 2024 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Immigrant Advocates Sound Off After DeSantis Signs E-Verify Into Law

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at Universal Studios Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference at Universal Studios Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Governor Ron DeSantis signed a slew of bills into law over the last several weeks. For some, like the state budget, DeSantis held press conferences and photo ops.

When the governor signed a controversial E-Verify bill into law Tuesday, there was no such pomp and circumstance. Immigrant advocates noticed.

E-Verify is a federal system created by the Department of Homeland Security that checks a new hire’s eligibility to work in the U.S., an effort to prohibit the hiring of undocumented workers.

Florida Senate Republicans went back-and-forth with the House during the legislative session on the bill, which got several facelifts during the process. In its final form, public employers and companies that contract with the state must use E-verify, while private employers can sidestep its use with a federal I-9 form – but face penalties if they don’t.

The bill’s principal backer in the Senate was Republican Tom Lee.

“Private employers found in non-compliance with the bill’s employment verification requirements will be subject to requests for a compliance affidavit from the Department of Economic Opportunity,” Lee said during debate on the bill in March. “Private employers who do not respond to DEO’s request for a compliance affidavit within 30 days of the request will have their license suspended.”

At points, Lee called out House amendments for watering down the measure.

Under the version that passed, law enforcement entities can request employee records from private employers.

Democratic Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez, who was critical of the proposal, asked for clarification on what responsibilities will fall on businesses:

“Could you describe the record-keeping requirements that we’re imposing on employers? With respect to I-9 and all that process, there are federal requirements in record-keeping –what are we adding on top of that as a matter of state law, now?”

Lee told his colleague the bill follows Tennessee’s lead.

“We are following a model that was put in place when Tennessee passed E-Verify,” he explained. “And one of the things they required, one of the options they gave employers, was to retain the I-9 verification documents, the documents provide to the employer under the I-9 process, for at least three years, or one year after the termination of the employee.”

E-Verify is now law, having received the governor’s signature. Immigrant advocacy groups are sounding off. Thomas Kennedy is Florida state coordinator for the organization United We Dream.

“Instead of taking care of business for the state, in the midst of what was developing and going to be a global pandemic, it was plain for us all to see they were instead focusing on E-Verify and making immigrants’ lives in the state as hard as possible,” Kennedy told WFSU Wednesday.

Kennedy says E-Verify’s signing follows a previous new law inked by the second-year governor, which he calls similarly anti-immigrant.

“A lot of advocacy organizations and community members, you know, we’re obviously worried – this bill comes to fruition after the governor has signed a previous anti-immigrant bill the last legislative session: the ‘show me your papers’ Senate bill 168 that enhanced cooperation between state agencies, law enforcement, and immigration agencies,” Kennedy said.

Carrie Boyd, policy counsel with the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund says the law will “disproportionately and discriminatively” harm Black and brown immigrants, writing in a statement: “Many employers will simply refuse to interview or hire immigrants in order to avoid potential conflicts with federal authorities.”

The law goes into effect in 2021.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.