[UPDATE] THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 10, 2011 --
Responding to a simmering national debate over federal immigration policy, a House panel on Thursday passed its version of immigration reform that falls short of Arizona-style restrictions but would still have a dramatic impact on more than 800,000 workers “living in the shadows.”
Approved by the House Judiciary Committee on a party line 12-6 vote, the Florida Immigration Enforcement Act increases penalties for immigrants unlawfully residing in the U.S. and the businesses that knowingly hire them.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, requires business owners to take concrete efforts to determine the status of the workers they employ, a provision that has put bill supporters in direct conflict with powerful Florida business groups.
It also prohibits law enforcement officers from racial and ethnic profiling, a provision that critics say will be difficult to monitor and nearly impossible to enforce. Some studies estimate more than 800,000 people may be unlawfully residing in Florida and comprise more than 6 percent of the work force.
Snyder said the unwillingness of federal and state officials to address the issue has created a permanent underclass. Further, the look-the-other-way mentality of business groups is eerily reminiscent of another, unsavory period in the nation’s past, he said.
“There was a period in American history, and I won’t even call it out, where that was the fundamental argument for holding an entire race of people in bondage,” Snyder said. “And the argument was it as economically impossible to go away from that system.”
The measure would allow law enforcement officers to request immigration status on suspects of criminal investigations if there was a reasonable suspicion that they may be in the country illegally. Traffic stops and other more routine encounters with police would not trigger an immigration query.
The bill would require all employers by July 1, 2013 to vet employees through the federal government’s E-Verify system, a computer database tracking the immigration status of millions. Employers with more than 100 workers would have to comply a year earlier.
While far softer than what some had envisioned as recently as last summer, when Snyder and former Attorney General Bill McCollum proposed legislation in the heat of McCollum’s campaign in a Republican primary for governor, the bill still has opponents.
“My parents followed the rule of law. They came to this country legally,” said Rep. John Julien, D-North Miami Beach. “I believe in the rule of law. But I do not think this bill solves the problem.”
The measure, a proposed committee bill that has yet to receive a bill number, has become a lightning rod as Florida and other states wrestle with the complex issues that surround the topic.
The issue has made strange bedfellows as business and immigrant’s rights groups’ band together in an effort to stop the legislation from becoming law, but for different reasons.
On Thursday members of Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail federation opposed the bill because it did not grant employers immunity for unknowingly hiring illegal workers.
Worker advocates said that immigrant laborers and their families have been drawn to this country by the need for their skills and they should not be blamed for a problem they did not create.
“In the midst of Florida’s crisis, our legislators insist in scapegoating immigrants instead of finding real solutions to our problems,” said María Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “Attacking immigrants will cause great political theater but it won’t create jobs or reduce Florida’s unemployment and foreclosure rates, among the highest in the country.”
In closing, Snyder said both groups are missing his point.
“The question boils down to this, Do we as a state, say, that we can acquiesce -- wink, wink, nod, nod? … It’s against the law to be here but we need people to pick our tomatoes. I’m telling you, that turns my stomach when I hear that argument.”
The proposal has two more committee stops before reaching the House floor.
Tallahassee, FL (AP) - Florida's House Judiciary Committee has approved an immigration bill requiring businesses in the state use the federal government's electronic verification program to check whether new employees are eligible to work in the U.S.
The bill presented Thursday combines into one proposal measures
from several previous bills. It requires all businesses use E-verify by 2013. Those that don't and employ illegal immigrants could see their Florida licenses revoked.
The bill would also make it a misdemeanor for illegal immigrants to be in Florida and would require local law enforcement agents check the immigration status of anyone arrested. It will likely be referred to other committees before heading to the House floor and then reconciliation with a Senate bill.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)