House committee clears immigration proposal over tearful testimony
By Sascha Cordner
Tallahassee, FL – A praying mass of immigrants and their supporters brought a Florida Senate budget committee to a halt. Today that same group went to the House to give their impassioned plea to not pass a bill aimed at trying to reduce illegal immigration.
The decision was met with tears as many immigrants in the room cried when they heard the members of the House Economic Affairs Committee vote favorably 11 to 7 for a bill aiming to reduce illegal immigrants in the state. During the meeting itself, some were moved to tears as well when they addressed the panel:
"We don't want you guys to separate are families from us because that would be really sad. We missed F-CAT on Wednesday and today because we love our families and we don't want this law to happen. Please make your wise decisions. May God bless you."
10-year-old Karla Amaya of Clearwater was among a number of immigrants who voiced their opposition to the bill during the public testimony, a bill that would have businesses, both public and private, use the free of charge E-verification system to confirm the immigration status of their employees. But, the other portion of the bill was met with the most public outcry.
"We live in fear because immigration laws you are assigning are targeting our workers, our parents, and our working families .We have a sphere that with your laws you are opening the doors that already have ethnic hatred and bias to target us and our parents because of our ethnic features. While this may not be your attention, you are empowering the people that would like to bring back our country to darker times when discrimination harassing whether because of race or ethnicity was acceptable."
15-year-old sophomore Cecilia Perez was talking about the law enforcement aspect of House Bill 7089, which is sponsored by Republican Representative William Snyder of Stuart.
"The second component of the bill creates an ability for local and state law enforcement to at times of a criminal investigation, it empowers them and here we have an important distinction, that they may inquire as to a suspects immigration status if during that criminal investigation they have reasonable suspicion that person is here illegally."
But, lawmakers who oppose the legislation say this is racial profiling, and Democratic Representative Geraldine Thompson, says she is very upset.
"This really disturbs me that we are reverting back to a time when a person's skin color, their facial features would be the reason for stopping them for questioning them and incarcerating them, and that's the only thing they were found guilty of is looking different than what we consider to be the American."
Democratic Representative James Waldman of Coconut Creek also opposes the bill and says this is going to upset tourism in the state because people won't feel welcome.
"You're putting the burden on somebody else to have to prove that they're here illegally. We have tourists who come here, people who come from other countries, and they may not have their papers and they may not be able to prove at that time And, I understand you said maybe 30 minutes, 30 seconds they could verify something, but they shouldn't have to."
But, Republican Representative Chris Dorworth of Heathrow, a major supporter of the measure, addressed critics concerns with the law enforcement portion of the bill and detailed other parts of the bill, applauding Representatives Snyder's initiative.
"In Law Enforcement, the Immigration investigation does not come into question until a subject has committed a crime, there is no documentation, and there is no suspicion. Secondly, it codifies that being illegal is illegal in the state of Florida making it a second degree misdemeanor and it wholes employers responsible to make sure Florida jobs go to those who are in Florida legally and it offers them protection with E-verification and I support this bill today and this problem with our immigration will continue until we strengthen our laws."
At the meetings end, Snyder described where he wanted the bill to go.
"The goal of the bill is for Florida to take an active role and trying to diminish the fact that 825-thousand people are in our state illegally where they can be easily exploited and easily victimized."
The bill passed along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. It now heads to the House Floor.