Bill Kaczor, Miami Herald, April 14, 2011
Neither tears, nor prayer nor opposition from influential business groups could sway a House committee that voted largely along party lines Thursday for a Republican-sponsored bill that would follow Arizona’s lead and make illegal immigration a state crime in Florida.
That legislation and a similar Senate bill also would require employers to use a federal database to verify the immigration status of new hires.
While other opponents, some identifying themselves as undocumented immigrants, knelt in prayer and two young girls burst into tears, business lobbyists argued the legislation would hurt Florida’s tourism and agriculture industries while reducing tax revenues.
“Just the mere consideration of this bill is causing the image of the state of Florida to be tarnished not only nationally but internationally,” said Florida Chamber of Chamber Vice President Adam Babington. He said that “will have economic consequences.”
Besides up to 20 days in jail and a $100 fine for a first offense, undocumented immigrants would face enhanced penalties if convicted of other crimes. Like Arizona’s law, police could check someone’s immigration status only if that person is under investigation for another criminal offense if there is a reasonable suspicion they’re in the country illegally.
The Florida legislation does not include Arizona provisions also requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers and making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job.
A study by the Pew Hispanic Center ranked Florida third among the states with an estimated 825,000 unauthorized immigrants, or 4.5 percent of the state’s population, last year.
It’s got the support, though, of Scott, who already has issued an executive order requiring state agencies and contractors to use the federal database when hiring.
“If people are in our country and violating the law then we ought to be able to ask if they’re legal or not,” Scott said.