A crowd of protestors swarmed Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, after yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ended with the passage of a controversial immigration-enforcement bill. She emphasized that the Senate’s bill never contained some of the more contentious provisions of the House proposal, and that a newly added amendment made some of the enforcement measures voluntary for state and local law enforcement.

She said that she felt squeezed, with advocates for tougher enforcement on one side and immigrant-rights and some business groups on the other.

“I’ve been called words I wouldn’t ever want my son to hear,” she said at one point during the frenzied final minutes, as lawmakers scrambled to pass a measure granting in-state tuition to undocumented Florida residents and to pass the immigration bill with an amendment intended to ease immigrant advocates’ concerns about creating “67 little Arizonas” in each of Florida’s counties.

“Please, read the bill,” Flores pleaded with the crowd, amid cries that the measure, which passed her committee on a 5-2 party-line vote, would lead to increased racial profiling.

Here’s what Senate bill 2040 does:

  1. Requires companies to use the E-Verify employment verification system for new hires, but gives them the option to instead scan an ID card that has passed muster under the  federal Real ID program.
  2. Provides that county sheriffs “may” enter 287(g) immigration-enforcement arrangements with the federal government. Before an amendment was added Monday, the bill would have required local sheriffs to at least conduct feasibility studies on the agreements, which refer to a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows federal immigration authorities to “deputize” state and local agencies to enforce immigration laws.
  3. Allows the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to study the feasibility of entering 287(g) agreements, and requires them to report the results of those studies back to the governor, the president of the Senate and the Speaker of the House each February.
  4. Requires law enforcement agencies to check the immigration status of people they arrest, to share information with federal immigration authorities and to check their fingerprints against federal databases.
  5. Provides for the deportation of “criminal aliens” held in state prisons.
  6. Calls for studies that would estimate the costs imposed on Florida by undocumented immigrants, and then send a bill to the federal government.

The Senate bill does not include some of the most contentious provisions in the House version, which more closely resembles portions of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070. Those include provisions creating a new state crime for being in the country illegally (which may be open to a constitutional challenge because immigration is generally controlled exclusively by the federal government) and a provision allowing police officers to question a person’s immigration status (the Florida House proposal limits that to officers conducting a criminal investigation).

Different people mean different things when they talk about “Arizona-style” laws. Sometimes that term refers to S.B. 1070-style measures, but Subhash Kateel of the Florida immigrant coalition said that Arizona’s immigration crackdown did not start with that law. It began with 287(g) agreements and other measures that involve local police and sheriffs in immigration enforcement, for which the notorious “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio became a poster child years before the passage of S.B. 1070.

Kateel said the amendment easing the requirement for sheriffs to enter 287(g) agreements was “a step in the right direction,” but the bill still has the same fundamental problem: the state is trying to tackle an issue that should be handled by the federal government. That sentiment was echoed by Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, who voted against the measure, saying this was the “wrong time” and the “wrong venue” for immigration reform.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who voted for the measure, said state lawmakers were trying to act where federal action has stalled.

“It’s not perfect,” he said of the bill. “But it’s not possible to be perfect.”

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