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Lawmakers look to stop illegal immigration in Florida

By Tom Flanigan


Tallahassee, FL – Undocumented immigrants could find work much harder to come by under a revised bill that passed the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Tom Flanigan reports the measure would require all new employees in the state to prove their citizenship electronically.

The bill is closely patterned after the Arizona law that requires employers to verify a potential employee's eligibility to work in this country. As originally drafted, the Florida measure required all employers to use the federal "E-Verify" system to make sure job applicants were legally able to work. On Tuesday State Senator John Thrasher of Jacksonville brought forth an amendment that gave employers another option. Senate staffer Erick McClure presented the amendment to the committee on behalf of Senator Thrasher.

"Which requires receipt of a Real I.D.' compliant drivers license or I.D. card from the employee and then requires the employer to swipe that card on authentication equipment and software in order to ensure that the card is not fraudulent and in order to determine that the personal information and physical appearance of the person presenting the card matches the data that comes up through the swipe."

And there were two amendments to that amendment. One from Naples Republican Senator Garrett Richter.

"This amendment clarifies who is responsible to check the immigration status of the potential employee for employers who use employee leasing companies."

Meaning, any company that employs someone, either directly or through a contractor, would be ultimately responsible for making sure that employee is legally allowed to work in this country. Another entity responsible for checking legal status of those they have dealings with would be Florida law enforcement agencies. The bill would require those agencies to become, in essence, an arm of U.S. Homeland Security. Originally, the bill made it mandatory for law officers to turn over to the feds any illegal immigrant who'd been arrested for any reason, including misdemeanor crimes. Senator Arthenia Joyner, Democrat from Tampa, thought that was going a bit too far and proposed an amendment of her own. It would reserve federal turnover for those suspects.

"Not just charged, but convicted and convicted of serious crimes as defined in Florida statute. This ensures that law enforcement focuses its limited resources on actual and validated threats to public safety."

With that, it was time for public comment. Back during the pre-session committee weeks, there had been about six hours of testimony concerning the legislation. That, and the fact the committee room was packed with potential speakers on Monday, prompted Committee Chair Anitere Flores to restrict comment. There would be one speaker per side and she asked that speakers keep it short preferably five seconds or less. Subhash Kateel with the pro-immigrant group "We Are Florida" was up first. He wondered why Florida was moving ahead on immigration reform when some other places were not.

"Mississippi has no immigration bills present today in its legislature. Kentucky said no more immigration bills. Arizona of all places said no more immigration bills. So we just want to make sure that folks understand that we still do not believe that this is the time to deal with immigration in the state legislature."

There were dozens of other people who were lined up to speak against the bill, but would not be speaking. There were no speakers to rise in favor of the bill. So it was time for debate with Republican Senator David Simmons of Altamonte Springs leading things off.

"I know it's not perfect, but I can tell you it's not possible to be perfect because of the divergent views that are held by so many people."

By then, Senator Thrasher, whose verification option amendment was now in the bill, was in the room and supporting the final product.

"What we've done here today is create an exception to the E-Verify bill that has actually tightened that particular provision and I believe will enhance the process of identifying and verifying the eligibility to work in the United States for those employers who choose not to use E-Verify. So it's a good bill. I think it's been delicately balanced."

Miami Gardens Democrat Oscar Braynon did not agree with that assessment.

"I want to side with A.I.F. and the Chamber on this and say that I can't vote for this bill and I also side with the people who will be E-Verified who are in the audience and also in my district that don't support the bill. I think this is the wrong time to be taking this up . Also the wrong venue, because this is also a federal issue, which I wish we would take up at the federal level."

When the vote came, it was a straight party-line affair with the majority Republicans winning the day. But, with one more bill still on the agenda, the committee adjourned early as the frustration from the dozens of people who'd hoped to speak against the bill boiled over.

"Show the bill passing as a committee substitute, now we're going to go..."

By the way, it's not only immigrant laborers who will need one of those new Florida driver licenses or state I-D cards. Starting this year, anyone applying for the cards will have to provide multiple proofs of identity and residence.