The stage for Florida’s immigration debate was set this summer in Arizona, when controversy over Senate Bill 1070 inspired ads during the campaign and copy-cat bills during last year’s special legislative sessions.
The Arizona law now provides a framework for immigration-enforcement bills circulating in both Florida’s House and Senate, but Florida International University law professor Ediberto Roman told lawmakers Monday that Florida could face “Arizona’s problem on steroids” if it enacted a similar measure.
An immigration law that creates a different standard of enforcement from other parts of the country could hurt the state’s tourism industry, he said. “Not only would an Arizona-type law hurt us in terms of public relations; it would hurt us in real dollars.”
Florida’s immigrant population is also more diverse than Arizona’s. It includes large numbers of Cubans (who are seldom deported) and Haitians (some of whom have been granted special status in the wake of last year’s earthquake).
Federal law normally pre-empts state and local immigration laws, because different enforcement standards effectively create different standards of citizenship in different states. Arizona’s law was once considered “pre-emption-proof,” he said, because it was framed as a way to help the federal government enforce its own laws.
However, a federal judge found the bill places an “undue burden” on legal immigrants and interferes with federal immigration policy by creating state crimes that effectively determine who should be allowed in the United States and other what conditions, a power Roman said is reserved for the federal government. Key enforcement provisions of the Arizona law are unlikely to survive court challenges, he said, and a similar measure in Florida would be likely face similar problems.
According to The Miami Herald, state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, describes the Senate version of the bill, which he’s sponsoring, as a conversation-starter, adding than an Arizona-style bill is unlikely to pass the upper chamber.
The House version, sponsored by state Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, has already begun inflaming passions in his district.
Roman said the Arizona bill was “politically motivated” and, like other immigration reform efforts that focused only on enforcement, “reactionary.”
“I don’t think enforcement-only is going to resolve the question,” Roman said. As long as businesses demand cheap labor, and migrants are wiling to provide it, building fences and calling for crackdowns will not solve the problems of undocumented workers.
The business community, countered state Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, is “the wrong place to look.”
Roman acknowledged that while the federal government receives a net revenue gain from undocumented workers, who tend to create greater economic benefits over time, state and local governments often have to bear increased demand on services they provide. Senators heard testimony on the effects of immigrants on schools, prisons and hospitals — including the dramatic and rare case of a man whose traumatic brain injury and the ensuing struggle to return him to his home Guatemala cost Martin Memorial Hospital around $1.5 million, according to hospital executive Robert Lord.
Bennett, like other lawmakers, expressed frustration with the federal government. He wondered why the state was paying to keep immigrants in state prisons, for example, when it would be much cheaper to send them home.
“That’s the reason all these states are trying to pass these laws,” he said. “Because the federal government is not doing their job.”
The ad-hoc group of lawmakers, which came together for the first of three information-gathering meetings to guide its efforts to tackle immigration, seemed to agree on at least one thing: It’s time to call a meeting with the state’s congressional delegation, and seek some action — or at least some answers — at the federal level.