Senate Dilutes E-Verify Immigration Bill for the Killing
Watered-down version could be set up to fail in House as business-migrant alliance flexes muscle
Around the State
A scaled-down E-Verify immigration bill appears headed for passage in the Florida Senate on Wednesday. An unimpressed House, given political cover on the issue, may just let it die.
Senate Bill 2040 survived a floor vote Tuesday after it was heavily amended and greatly diluted. Instead of requiring all employers to use the federal database to screen new hires, the latest version applies only to state employment centers and recipients of public benefits.
One insider called the measure "wimpy," and E-Verify supporters seethed over what they called "half-truths" and "flat-out lies" about the program during Tuesday's floor debate.
"There was sabotage going on here," charged David Caulkett of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement. Caulkett said some of the bill's new language, including the provisions on welfare screening, appeared deliberately designed to kill it.
If so, it wouldn't be the first time. Republican leaders have quashed 29 previous immigration bills in recent legislative sessions.
E-Verify advocates were incensed at Sen. J.D. Alexander, who took control of the bill in recent days. Noting that the Lake Wales Republican is also CEO of an agricultural company, immigration-control advocate George Fuller said Alexander's involvement was "worse than the fox watching the henhouse."
Others blamed Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who had pledged to a tea party rally on the opening day of the Legislature that his chamber would pass an E-Verify bill.
"He appoints two people [Alexander and Judiciary Chairwoman Anitere Flores] to head the E-Verify parade and they both openly opposed it. What the hell does that tell you?" Fuller asked.
Senate vote minders said the neutered version of SB 2040 was the best they could get passed.
Proponents of a "strict E-Verify" bill favor House Bill 7089, a more comprehensive measure that also includes an enforcement provision.
But the Senate's repeated delays and eventual dilution of its E-Verify bill bodes ill for the House version authored by Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart. The House has not moved its bill, waiting instead to see what the Senate produced.
Reports circulating late Tuesday suggested that the House would not take a vote on the adulterated Senate version -- and would not pursue its own bill since it would almost certainly fail in the Senate.
Snyder said the odds are long either way.
“For the past four months, I have steadfastly maintained my commitment to addressing the problem of illegal immigration in Florida. My proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation included a reasonable law enforcement component, as well as employment verification.
"At this time, it does not appear that the Senate is able to pass immigration legislation containing these components and procedural rules make it increasingly unlikely that the House will be able to take up a Senate version,” Snyder said.
With the clock ticking down to a Friday adjournment, the House would have to waive its rules by a two-thirds vote in order to read the Senate bill three times in the same day to beat the deadline.
Migrant-rights groups strategically aimed their lobbying efforts at the Senate, dropping in to senators' offices and even praying with Alexander last week.
The fix was in early Tuesday when the Senate began its morning session with an invocation by a Tallahassee pastor who urged lawmakers to remember "the least of our children [who] pick our crops and provide food for our tables."
Opposition to immigration legislation came from more than migrants chanting and praying, "God is With Us" at the Capitol.
A document obtained by Sunshine State News listed 189 national and Florida-based organizations and individuals that have "stated their concern for the ramifications of the recently proposed anti-immigration laws in Florida."
Members of the "We Are Florida" consortium ranged from the Chamber of Commerce to a variety of "faith" organizations and three current and former law-enforcement officers.
By failing to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration, "We Are Florida" consistently blurred the debate over legislation designed to tighten private-sector hiring through use of the federal E-Verify database.
Bill Landis, a member of the Florida Minutemen patriot group lobbying for tougher immigration laws, said, "We have been outnumbered 80-to-1, and it has been nothing but hard work from day one."
The Florida Chamber dealt a crushing blow to the already-weakened bill Tuesday with a widely circulated e-mail blast that repeated outdated information as part of a session-long campaign to denigrate the accuracy of the federal E-Verify program.
In fact, the most recent independent and government studies have shown E-Verify to be highly accurate. Some 98.3 percent of employees are automatically confirmed as authorized to work, according to U.S. Customs and Immigration Service statistics.
The E-Verify system, which cross-checks driver's license and Social Security records, has been upgraded to handle up to 60 million requests at a time, and independent audits show it has an accuracy rate exceeding 95 percent.
The state chamber's political involvement follows a running court campaign by the U.S. Chamber, which has sued over E-Verify law in in other states.
But businesses that use E-Verify testify to its effectiveness and ease of use. Chipotle Grill, a Mexican food chain that has been the subject of large raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, has turned to E-Verify as a way to steer clear of future trouble.
Previously, Chipotle relied on I-9 forms filled out by new employees and reviewed by clerical staff. But even with the company's time-consuming double-checking procedure, hundreds of Chipotle employees were found by federal agents to be illegals. Now the company relies on E-Verify to vet applicants.
Overall, E-Verify has the highest customer satisfaction rating of any federal program (82 percent), and customer support approval of 89 percent, USCIS reported.
Alexander took a dimmer view. As CEO of Alico Inc., the Lake Wales Republican said using the federal database would cost him $20 per hire. That figure, which could not be independently confirmed, was Alexander's latest tack against SB 2040, which he had previously bottled up in his budget committee.
In response, Caulkett and others began circulating a report that listed Alico, prior to Alexander's ascension to CEO, as a primary user of illegal labor.
Alexander, who is term-limited next year, did not respond to requests for comment.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.