Gov. Rick Scott touted the idea of bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida on the campaign trail, and versions of such a law have been introduced in both the state House and Senate.
Since then, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and several key lawmakers have spoken against the measure, including the senator overseeing a series of fact-finding hearings on immigration reform. Business groups have said it’s a bad idea, and legal scholars have said it’s unlikely to pass constitutional muster. (Arizona’s law, known as S.B. 1070, is being challenged in court by the Obama Administration.) The law’s Senate sponsor — Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton — said he might not vote for his own bill in its current form.
Responding to Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigration Coalition, who warned against criminalizing an entire population, Bennett said, “We’re not criminalizing any population. When they came here illegally, they criminalized themselves.” He went on to say that the state was going to attempt immigration reform of some kind, because constituents demand it.
As Mark Schlakman of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights explained in a column for the Tallahassee Democrat, the state’s hands are often tied when it comes to setting immigration policy:
Apart from questions concerning the constitutionality of such state legislation, its practical value is suspect, given that state officials cannot compel their federal counterparts to take undocumented aliens into custody or to initiate removal proceedings against them.
Absent a cost-sharing agreement, Florida taxpayers would incur the cost of detaining individuals taken into custody by the state.
Even if federal officials were inclined to cooperate, they generally would retain the discretion to release such individuals pending disposition of their cases.
Under Gov. Lawton Chiles, the state entered into agreements with federal authorities that increased the sharing of information between state and federal authorities and allowed for the removal of undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes or who had previously been deported.
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, asked Schlakman whether he would grade the Chiles initiative a “D” or an “F.” Schlakman, who served in the Chiles Administration, said a fairer grade would be “Incomplete,” in part because policy changed when Jeb Bush took office.
So what might Florida lawmakers do?
For one thing, there’s E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security program that allows employers to check whether new hires are eligible to work in the country. Despite its problems with detecting identity theft and opposition from some business groups, the program has been supported by Gov. Scott, and a bill introduced by Hays would require its use by every employer in Florida.
As for other alternatives, Adam Babington of the Florida Chamber of Commerce mentioned programs, such as Section 287(g), in which local authorities receive training from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and enter agreements that allow them to enforce federal immigration laws. Georgia lawmakers are weighing a plan that would increase incentives for local agencies to participate in that program.
Still, the Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida both contended during Monday’s immigration hearing that the country needs a revamped guest-worker program — the kind of comprehensive immigration reform begun, but ultimately abandoned, under President George W. Bush. That can only occur at the federal level.