Conflicting signals from Florida legislators about the possibility of an Arizona-style law are leaving Florida’s immigrant rights community confused about what to expect in 2011.

Subhash Kateel of the Florida Immigrant Coalition tells The Florida Independent that as GOP immigration enforcement bills are discussed in Tallahassee, people think an Arizona-type bill won’t impact South Florida. But he thinks that isn’t the case.

“We are educating people about the bills,” he says. “The biggest problem in South Florida is that immigrants underestimate its impact.”

Kateel wrote late last year:

Arizona has made everyone think local and think enforcement. After SB 1070, real attention is being focused on local enforcement, on ICE’s reach into our communities, and into the spread of anti-immigrant legislation at the state level. The energy isn’t just filtering into the fight against SB 1070 in Arizona, there are literally pitch battles being set up in state’s trying to replicate SB 1070. And I truly believe that different sectors of the immigrant rights movement are finally getting a grasp on how Immigration Enforcement happens and how to stop it.

Kateel says state Sen. Mike Bennett’s bill has the most controversial aspects of the Arizona law, and that despite his comments denying that his bill promotes racial profiling late last year, he has recently expressed a different view on the issue.

Bennett told the St. Petersburg Times last week:

“There probably will not be an Arizona immigration-style bill that passes the Florida Senate,” said Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican.

He said he’s deeply concerned with the part of the bill that’s most identified with Arizona’s law: the requirement that local police with “reasonable suspicion” attempt to determine a person’s immigration status during a routine traffic stop or arrest.

Echoing civil libertarians and Hispanic lawmakers, Bennett said the measure could lead to racial or ethnic profiling. Though the bill bans discrimination, he said it may not be enough.

“I might not even vote for it myself,” said Bennett, adding that he copied much of the Arizona law “to start the conversation” about immigration reform.

Kateel says that “legislators who have districts with large Latino constituents” are the reason Bennett is changing his tune.

“The South Florida delegation has said its priority is jobs. Pushing this bill in this climate makes no sense,” Kateel says. “I don’t know how anyone can think this is a good idea.”

Kateel also spoke about state Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, who has sponsored an immigration bill in the House that shares a language with the Bennett law.

“[Snyder] is willing to hear but not listen,” Kateel says. “He is not paying attention to the racist comments coming from people who favor his bill. The backbone behind his bill is the fringe. The shocking thing is that Snyder and other people don’t see the racial profiling in the bill.”

According to Kateel, at a recent town hall meeting organized by Snyder in Palm City, one of his supporters said he was tired of waking up to the sound of chickens, implying all immigrants own chickens.

State Rep. Steven Bovo, R-Miami, speaking about the Bennett and Snyder immigration bills, tells the Independent, “I am not supportive of any Arizona-immigration-style law. The federal government dropped the ball on this issue and Arizona brought it to the forefront.”

Bovo says that as the immigration debate moves forward, he would like to hear what Florida’s agricultural and tourist industries — which both employ undocumented immigrants — have to say about immigration enforcement measures such as E-Verify.

“If we need to do something, it has to be done based on Florida’s reality,” Bova says, adding, “If an immigrant breaks the law, OK, but I won’t support something that puts us on the path to a police state.”

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