Florida’s attempt to emulate Arizona on immigration has run into a couple of bumps.
With no debate, the Florida Senate on Wednesday approved a watered-down bill to curb illegal immigration, an issue that has divided Republicans in the state, pitting pro-business and Hispanic lawmakers against the party’s more populist wing.
The bill would require the police to make “a reasonable effort” to determine the immigration status of people they arrest and jail, a provision that opponents say is an Arizona-style attack on legal and illegal immigrants. The proposal would also require that illegal immigrants who are convicted of nonviolent crimes be referred to federal officials for deportation.
The vote was a surprise because lawmakers had presumed the bill was dead after the Senate voted down a pivotal amendment on Tuesday that had been pushed by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and Tea Party activists. That measure would have essentially required businesses in Florida to check a worker’s immigration status in a federal verification database, known as E-Verify, or risk fines if a worker was found to be illegal.
“It’s easy to talk about this down at the post office, but when you start looking in people’s eyes, people who live and breathe like us, we need to think long and hard,” said State Senator J. D. Alexander, a Republican who is a citrus grower and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. “We are being put in the middle of the most difficult position.”
With the bill stripped of the amendment, more Republicans were willing to vote for the overall legislation. But the bill’s prospects in the House are uncertain. The Legislature is expected to recess for the year on Friday, and House Republican leaders prefer their own version of the bill, which takes a considerably tougher line.
After hearing how broke the state is and how much money the legislature is cutting from programs such as healthcare and public education, I wonder where they think they’re going to come up with the money to pay for this bill. Not only will it cost money to enforce it, it’s going to cost money to defend it against the barrage of lawsuits that will be filed by immigration rights groups and, if the Arizona experience is any guide, the federal government.
It’s also interesting that the legislature and Gov. Scott would go after immigration anyway. It’s not like it’s a huge issue here in Florida; we don’t share a border with a desperately poor place riddled with ignorance and corruption and where the people are desperate to leave. (Oh, wait; we do share a border with Alabama. I stand corrected.) And for every Republican who is echoing the knee-jerk Tea Party line about “illegals” and putting them into boxcars to be shipped back, there’s a Republican who runs a large corporate farm that relies on undocumented workers to pick the crops or cut his lawn.
Gov. Scott ran on the immigration issue because it polled well with the teabaggers. But like a lot of things that crowd says, they make a nice sound bite but they don’t make any practical sense. And here in Miami, if the cops can pull over someone and make a “reasonable effort” to determine their immigration status because they look like some minority, there are going to be a lot of Anglos being told to present their papers.
PS: They’re doing this on the eve of Cinco de Mayo. Good timing.