John Kennedy, Daytona Beach News-Journal, January 21, 2019
Defying Florida’s most powerful industries — agriculture and tourism — DeSantis plans to make good on his campaign pledge to require all businesses in the state to use the federal E-Verify database to assure that new hires are legally eligible to work in this country.
DeSantis’ predecessor, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, also talked tough about using E-Verify but limited its use to state government agencies after drawing a firestorm of opposition from farming giants and tourism officials who rely on cheap labor, some of it undocumented workers.
But at his inaugural address, he drew what may have been his biggest applause line from a decidedly partisan crowd when he vowed to “stop incentivizing illegal immigration, which is unfair to our legal immigrants, promotes lawlessness and reduces wages for our blue-collar workers.”
Still, getting E-Verify through the Legislature — and a related bill barring so-called “sanctuary” policies, another favorite with the GOP voting base – could prove challenging for the new governor.
While DeSantis has drawn measured praise from Florida Democrats for several of his early policy steps, tackling immigration could end that swiftly.
E-Verify and the ban on sanctuary cities, where federal immigration laws are loosely enforced by local authorities, have been opposed by Democrats, who view the legislation as targeting minorities.
Other opponents to the E-Verify legislation already are gearing up.
“Our broken immigration system is a very real problem best solved comprehensively and conclusively at the federal level, rather than 50 states each seeking a patchwork of solutions,” said Edie Ousley, a spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which has been among the most visible critics of efforts to require businesses to use E-Verify.
E-Verify is now looming as another shot by the executive branch at an agriculture industry that has long benefited from allies in the Legislature.
Butch Calhoun, lobbyist for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, said farmers already carefully screen newly hired workers to assure they can work legally in the U.S.
Also, he said E-Verify is not a perfect system. He pointed out that due to the government shutdown – prompted by Trump’s demand for the Mexican border wall – the E-Verify database is offline and unavailable to businesses.
Critics, though, question whether E-Verify makes a difference, since federal surveys show that just over half of new hires are even run through the system. Also, fake identification is easy to obtain and that, too, would certainly be used by many undocumented workers to avoid getting caught by E-Verify.
DeSantis, though, was unwavering about the need for E-Verify during his campaign for governor – using the issue to taunt his Republican primary opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who was heavily backed by farming interests wanting no additional obstacles to hiring workers.
Within the Legislature, though, an unusual coalition is uniting against E-Verify.
Republicans command sizable majorities in both the House and Senate.
But industries opposed are major contributors to the state Republican Party and individual lawmakers’ campaigns, which typically earns them influence on issues.
The GOP also tends to avoid enacting any regulations seen as hurdles for Florida businesses.
Joining with Republicans wary of E-Verify, many Democrats oppose the system because it’s considered harmful to immigrant and Hispanic populations, posing a risk even to legal residents who may get snagged by data errors.
Immigration advocates also warn the requirement can discourage employers from hiring some minority workers, just to avoid any hassle with E-Verify.