[UPDATE] Immigrants Keep Pressure on Fla. State Legislators

By: Whitney Ray; Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Whitney Ray; Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email

[UPDATE] 5-3 2:00pm-- TALLAHASSEE (AP) --

National civil rights and Latino groups are monitoring the Florida legislature's immigration debate and say they're weighing a boycott of the Sunshine State depending on what lawmakers finally pass.

During a conference call Tuesday, the National Council of La Raza and other groups said they are discussing the issue with their members and want to be careful not to hurt the very people they represent. A quarter of Floridians are Latino, and many are immigrants.

The Florida Senate is set to vote Tuesday on an immigration bill encouraging local law enforcement to check the status of those arrested. It would also require employers to follow stricter procedures when checking whether a new hire is eligible to work in the U.S.

A tougher version of the proposal has passed the House.
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[UPDATE] 4-29 3:12pm - MIAMI (AP) --

Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos is seeking to beef up the Senate immigration reform bill in a last minute attempt to require businesses use the federal government's electronic work eligibility program.

Officials confirmed Friday that Sen. J.D. Alexander will likely
present the bill to the full floor Monday. Alexander is a citrus
grower from Polk County who knows a thing or two about hiring
immigrant labor. Previously, South Florida's Sen. Anitere Flores
was carrying the bill. She sought to water down some of the bill's
toughest language, including making the E-verify check system
voluntary.

Still, Flores faced criticism from pro-immigrant groups like
America's Voice Immigration Fund and Democracia USA. They
repeatedly ran ads on Spanish-language radio in Miami accusing the
Cuban-American legislator of being a traitor to her community.

_______________________________

[UPDATE] 4-29 2:32pm -

Former Miami Police Chief John Timoney has written to lawmakers to say that he’s worried about police losing the trust of immigrants if lawmakers try to crack down on illegal immigrants. “Without such trust, immigrants, regardless of status, will not cooperate with police or report even serious crimes, like armed robbery or domestic violence,” Timoney wrote in the letter, dated Friday. “Legal immigrants will not cooperate with the police if they fear that they, or their relatives or friends will be deported. This would lead to greater crime and degrades the quality of life for the broader community.” A House bill (HB 7089) that would give local police greater ability to check on people’s immigration status is ready for a floor vote. The Senate is working on a similar bill (SB 2040), though Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, acknowledged this week that the chamber is having a difficult time working out differences of opinion on how tough the bill should be.

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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 28, 2011 -

The Legislature’s effort to step up enforcement of federal immigration laws remained in limbo Wednesday as advocates for immigrants came to the Capitol and the Senate president shifted responsibility for trying to work the issue out.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos said he has asked Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to take over the Senate’s leadership on the unresolved issue as lawmakers work toward a scheduled May 6 end of the session. The bill had been sponsored in the Senate by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores.

Alexander is a rancher and citrus farmer, who is sensitive to the agriculture industry’s concerns about broad efforts that could make it harder to hire immigrants. But he said as recently as last week that the issue isn’t high on his radar screen.

Haridopolos acknowledged that the Senate is yet to work out all the details of the proposal. Members of the Senate are interested, he said, in requiring the use of the federal E-verify system to check the immigration status of people applying for jobs through the state’s workforce programs, and for people who are seeking government benefits, but not necessarily for all private employers.

A thorny issue for the Senate remains how to treat the issue of state and local law enforcement officials asking about people’s immigration status.

“That’s one of the areas we’re still working on,” said Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate.

The immigration issue is a difficult one for some Republicans, who are pulled in opposite directions on the question. The populist wing of the party, including the tea party, has pushed hard for stronger state crack downs on illegal immigration, saying the federal government has failed to keep immigrants out. But the business wing of the party has taken a more cautious approach, and several major business lobbies have urged lawmakers not to try to usurp the federal role in immigration enforcement.

“We’re still trying to find compromise on it,” said Haridopolos, acknowledging the paradox of having the agriculture industry pressuring Republicans not to push hard on the issue and many other people demanding that something be done.

“We’re trying to thread that needle,” Haridopolos said. “We’re just trying to find the right thing to do, and not cause more problems.”

The House is ready to pass a more stringent immigration bill that seeks to give law enforcement the ability to ask about immigration status when they make arrests, and requires employers to screen newly hired workers for immigration status. That bill (HB 7089) is ready for a floor vote, but its sponsor, Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, said Wednesday that the House is waiting to see what the Senate will do, having little interest in having a long drawn-out debate if the Senate isn’t going to pass a bill.

“We have so much going on,” Snyder said.

“It will come to the (House) floor when they (the Senate) are in a position to accept it,” Snyder added. “We’ve shown all along we were able to craft a policy that makes sense.”

Gov. Rick Scott is also involved in the discussions over the bill, though it’s not clear how much. Last year, Scott campaigned heavily on passing an “Arizona-style” immigration law.

“We do believe that if you’re violating a law in our state you ought to be asked if you are legal or not,” Scott said Wednesday. “But we have to make sure that there is no racial profiling and it’s got to be fair.”

Meanwhile, Florida college students on Wednesday joined other immigrants, who have been at the Capitol all this week lobbying against the bill. The students went to Haridopolos’ office to try to get him to talk to them about the bill.

"He never came," said Felipe Matos, an undocumented student who came to Florida when he was 14 years old. "That symbolizes that he's against us, he's against the Latino community.”

Last summer, the measure appeared almost certain to pass, with a national push in conservative states for Arizona-like immigration bills and Scott pushing the issue during his campaign.

“I think the fervor from the people of Florida hasn’t diminished,” Snyder said.

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[UPDATE] 4-15

Setting the stage for floor debate, a House panel on Thursday approved a measure requiring employers to screen newly hired workers for their immigration status and giving police the power to question criminal suspects to determine if they are in the country illegally.

Despite a flurry of testimony in opposition from children and the clergy, the House Economic Affairs Committee approved the measure (HB 7089) that backers say will allow the state to take steps to control illegal immigration without going to the extremes that have left an Arizona law tied up in court.

“There are 825,000 people today in Florida living in the shadows that do not have rights that you and I have so that we can eat our salads and get our lawns mowed and get our yards raked,” said Rep. William Snyder. R-Stuart and sponsor of the bill.

By an 11-7 vote, the committee approved the measure over the objections of immigrant advocates and the state’s largest business and agricultural groups including Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Farm Bureau.

The groups argue that the federal E-Verify system set up to check immigration status that the bill would require employers to use is flawed. They also say illegal workers are not taking away jobs from lawful residents. Further, they say debate over immigration is giving the tourism-fueled state a black eye.

“The mere consideration of this bill is causing the image of the state of Florida to be tarnished both nationally and internationally,” said Adam Babbington, vice president of government affairs for the Florida Chamber.

The House version would require employers to check the immigration status of newly hired workers through E-verify. Amendments added Thursday would provide protections for businesses that hire workers not legally residing in the country if they slip through E-Verify, which has been widely criticized for being unreliable.

The bill would also allow police to seek the identity and immigration status of suspects in criminal investigations. Suspects found guilty would face a second degree misdemeanor.

Backers of the measure said the state shouldn’t look the other way at what is, at its essence, an illegal act.

“The situation really devalues citizenship when we offer jobs to those who are not in this country legally,” said Rep. Ronald Renuart, R-Ponte Verde Beach.

Critics of the plan also said, however, that it would lead inevitably to racial and ethnic profiling despite language in the bill that prevents singling out suspects based on their skin color, language or other ethnic features. They also said that a mere allegation, regardless of merit, could trigger an investigation and subsequent charges.

Committee members also heard from a number of teenagers who are U.S. citizens because they were born in the United States. Their parents, however, are in the country illegally, some for decades.

“We want to be able to go to school every morning without having to worry if our family will be there when we get out,” said Cecilia Perez, a sophomore at Largo Magnet School.

Snyder said despite the tearful testimony, the responsibility for their predicament lies squarely on the shoulders of those who despite years of residence in Florida have failed to go through the naturalization process.

“These children here today crying out for mercy are here because of the wrong actions of their parents,” Snyder said. “The unintended consequence of coming to this country illegally has set up some of the stories you are hearing today.”

In the Senate, action on a less restrictive version (SB 2040) that only includes employer verification requirements was postponed until after Easter.

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Tallahassee, FL - As lawmakers debated immigration reform legislation in a House committee Thursday. Hispanic members of the audience dropped to their knees and began to pray.

The legislation passed the committee, just two votes shy of being defeated.

Afterward the opponents rallied, and thanked God for the close vote.

“Basically what we saw was the power of God. A lot of people were praying,” said Juan Pablo Chavez, an organizer

While the group’s efforts may have only secured moral victories in the House… in the Senate they may produce a compromise.

Wednesday, as state senators prepared to take up the legislation that would pave the way for local law enforcement officers to act as immigration agents.

A crowd of more than a 100 began to pray outside the committee room.

Erika Escamilla, a naturalized citizen living in Clearwater, is afraid the bill would lead to police harassment for people with Hispanic features.

“It’s going to be very difficult with our skin color to even go out on the street,” said Escamilla.

Senate debate on the bill was postponed, twice. The House Sponsor says a deal maybe in the works.

“It doesn’t appear to me that they have arrived yet at language they can pass,” said Representative William Snyder.

The Legislation won’t come up again until after Easter. By then it may be watered down, when the question will be whether campaign promises are more powerful than protesters.

Backing the Immigrates are several business groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce. They fear the legislation would keep tourist from South American counties from visiting Florida.


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