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Politics

As Neighbors Crack Down on Illegals, Florida Becomes 'Sanctuary'

June 13, 2011 - 6:00pm

While Florida failed to approve an E-Verify bill this year, all of its neighboring states and even Congress are moving forward with immigration laws.

Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi have passed tough E-Verify laws requiring employers to use the federal database to check the legal status of newly hired workers.

"Florida is a peninsula surrounded by water and states with mandatory E-Verify laws," said George Fuller, a Florida-based immigration activist.

More states may be emboldened to enact E-Verify statutes since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona's requirement last month. The court ruled that states can use their business licensing laws to mandate E-Verify's use and punish employers who fail to do so.

With Florida's immediate neighbors cracking down on the hiring of illegal aliens, immigration-enforcement advocates predict that the Sunshine State will become an even larger magnet for undocumented workers.

"We just became a sanctuary state," Robin Stublen, a tea party leader from Charlotte County, said after Florida lawmakers failed to pass an E-Verify bill.

Florida is currently home to an estimated 1 million illegal aliens, and the immigration-enforcement group Federation for American Immigration Reform figures that the state spends $5.5 billion a yearin taxpayer money to provide educational, medical and social services to illegals.

The high court's approval of Arizona's E-Verify law could change the political dynamic in Washington, where President Barack Obama has called for another round of immigration reform.

Mark Krikorian of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, said the administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had wanted to hold mandatory E-Verify as a bargaining chip for "comprehensive immigration reform."

"This involved amnesty for the Obama administration and massive increases in imported captive labor ['guest workers'] for the Chamber," Krikorian said.

"But the court's decision makes it more likely Congress will be able to pass such a mandate on its own, not bundled with any amnesty or guest-worker provisions," Krikorian said.

Indeed, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, on Tuesday introduced a bill mandating that most or all employers across the country enroll in the free federal E-Verify program.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., co-sponsored the Senate version of the measure, titled the Achieving Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act.

"While 26 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, 7 million individuals work illegally in the United States," Smith wrote in an op-ed with Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif. "On top of all the challenges Americans face today, it is inexcusable that Americans and legal workers have to compete with illegal immigrants for scarce jobs.

"Fortunately, there is a tool available to preserve jobs for legal workers: E-Verify. But the program is voluntary. Congress has the opportunity to expand E-Verify -- including making it mandatory -- so more job opportunities are made available to unemployed Americans."

Joe Kefauver, in a commentary for Convenience Store News, wrote this month:

"While it is unclear how it will all play out, one thing is very clear to those who have been closely involved in this issue across the country -- the E-Verify Train has not only left the station, it is barreling down the track like a runaway locomotive.

"Pending action at the federal level is going to force some quick decision-making for the business community."

In Florida, both sides of the immigration-enforcement fight expect to be back in Tallahassee next year for another pitched battle.

Questioning E-Verify's accuracy and raising the politically explosive (though unproven) charge of racial profiling, a coalition of business, religious and left-wing activists peeled off enough votes to sink immigration legislation at the 2011 session.

Conservative activists and tea party groups vow to redouble their efforts in 2012 and have targeted opposition lawmakers in next year's elections.

Meantime, Alabama raised the bar last week when Gov. Robert Bentley signed a sweeping immigration bill that includes mandatory E-Verify, banishes illegal immigrants from public colleges and punishes landlords who knowingly rent to illegals.

The Alabama law also includes a tough Arizona-style provision requiring law-enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally. That part of Arizona's law faces a pending challenge in the federal courts.

Tougher laws appear to be gaining traction, as the U.S. Supreme Court last week remanded the City of Hazleton v. Lozano case back to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. The lower court had struck down the Pennsylvania city's statute penalizing landlords for renting to illegals, but the high court, after upholding the Arizona E-Verify law, ordered the 3rd Circuit to reconsider.

In any event, Fuller says "Floridians need to brace themselves for evermore illegal-alien costs as Florida remains the job magnet in the southeast part of the United States."

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Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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