Senate holds civilized immigration reform meeting, stresses ‘decorum’by Dara Kam | January 10th, 2011
The Florida Senate held a low-key information-gathering session on immigration reform late this afternoon, the first in a series of meetings coinciding with immigration legislation currently in the works.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos put Sen. Anitere Flores, a Cuban-American from Miami and chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in charge of three meetings on the controversial topic that legislatures throughout the nation are grappling with.
Today’s meeting included presentations from federal immigration authorities and an update from state education, prison and highway safety officials as well as a law professor from Florida International University.
Flores said she hoped the cerebral kick-off would set the stage for future discussions to be held in “dispassionate and well-informed manner.”
But some lawmakers were clearly frustrated by what they heard.
- Florida taxpayers are spending about $33 million a year on locking up criminals who are confirmed aliens but not all of them may be here illegally, according to Department of Corrections official Jason Welty. The federal government pays the state back just $5 of the $53 a day it costs to incarcerate them, he said.
- Up to 5,000 Florida school children could be illegal aliens but education officials have no way of verifying whether they are or aren’t because of a federal judge’s order, Department of Education officials told the panel.
- Employers can only use the federal E-verify system to check whether employees are eligible to work after they’ve already been hired, Francine Hill of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said. In one of his first edicts issued immediately after he was sworn in, Gov. Rick Scott ordered state agencies to use the system.
Sen. Alan Hayes didn’t like that.
“I think it’s a bogus deal,” an irate Hays, R-Umatilla, objected. “If I’ve got to heir the man before I can use your system then your system does no good to tell me whether I should hire him or not. Your system just tells me whether I should fire him or not.”
Lawmakers are considering at least four bills dealing with immigration reform, including an Arizona-style law proposed by Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, that FIU law professor Ediberto Rámon warned would likely be struck down by the courts.
Snyder last week held a heated town hall meeting on the issue in Palm City.
An Arizona-style law would harm Florida because it could chase away international tourists and feed into the hysteria regarding illegal immigration, Rámon said after the meeting.
He cautioned that the Arizona-style law also could have a negative social impact in a state with so many legal immigrants.
“Once you have a scapegoat, you make them less than human,” he said.