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Senate GOP leader: E-Verify might have saved lives of 9/11 victims

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate came closer to finalizing its immigration reforms after killing an amendment proposed by powerful Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher.

Thrasher’s plan would have fined businesses that hired workers in the country illegally but would not have required business owners to use the federal E-Verify system.

Trying to convince senators to support his amendment, Thrasher implied that the 9/11 terrorist attacks might not have happened nearly a decade ago if Florida had the E-Verify system in place.

“I will remind everybody in here that 10 of the 19 terrorists that attacked our country that were directed by Osama bin Laden to do that lived in the state of Florida. I wish we had had an E-Verify system because some of them were working. We might have saved the lives of 3,000 Americans,” said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a former House Speaker who also recently served as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

The Senate killed the amendment by a 23-16 vote after more than an hour, including a heartfelt speech by JD Alexander, the Senate’s immigration reform architect.

Alexander, a citrus farmer who also raises blueberries, crafted a measure that, among other things, would essentially exempt agricultural businesses like his from having to verify workers’ immigration status.

But he objected to Thrasher’s amendment after saying he could not find enough legal immigrants – or other workers – to pick his blueberry crop during the season that ended this week and expressing frustration that the federal government’s inaction on the issue was forcing state lawmakers to acting because of political pressure from tea party activists.

“Quit all these one-sided political arguments,” said Alexander, who is term-limited out of office next year. “I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do. The federal government should stop it tomorrow without a doubt. But we’re not talking about that…This is not our problem and we’re having this problem put on our shoulders and I resent it. And I resent it because we’re asked to choose between hard-working people and somebody’s uninformed knowledge” of illegal immigration.

Senate immigration update: E-Verify, biz fines, boycotts now in the mix

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate Rule Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, filed an amendment to the immigration bill (SB 2040) that would fine businesses up to $1,500 for each unauthorized worker hired after July 1, 2012.

Thrasher’s amendment would not force business owners to use the federal E-Verify system – which could cost up to $60 per hiree for small businesses – but would fine those who hire undocumented workers $500 for the first offense, $1,000 for the second and $1,500 after that.

Thrasher’s amendment also would force state agencies to use E-Verify before hiring new employees, something Gov. Rick Scott has done for current state workers.

Meanwhile, national groups are threatening to boycott Florida as they did Arizona if lawmakers approve legislation they deem would be a vehicle for racial profiling. The legislature’s Hispanic caucus also came out in opposition to the reforms today.

Left-leaning organizers, moveon.org, held a telephone conference this morning warning they are mobilizing boycotts and voter registration drives. They said the Arizona boycotts cost that state hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Our members in Florida and around the country are watching the legislature very closely today,” said Moveon.org executive director Justin Ruben. “Our members will take their business and their tourism dollars elsewhere.”

The Senate is slated to take up Senate budget chief JD Alexander’s proposed immigration reform today as Friday’s end to the legislative session approaches. Alexander, a farmer, filed a proposal that would essentially exempt the agricultural industry from the reforms but includes a variety of other measures that would make it easier to deport criminals who are in the country illegally after their sentences are complete. They could also serve reduced sentences if they agree not to fight deportation.

The House’s version, sponsored by Stuart Republican William Snyder, goes much farther and would allow law enforcement officials to request documentation if the individual is the subject of a criminal investigation. Snyder’s proposal (HB 7089) would also require that all businesses use E-Verify.

Senate leader files immigration amendment, no E-Verify

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief-turned-immigration reformer JD Alexander filed a strike-all amendment this morning that would require work boards to check the immigration status of applicants but lacks any requirement that businesses use the federal E-Verify system to ensure hirees are in the country legally.

Alexander, a Republican farmer from Lake Wales, crafted the amendment to essentially leave the agricultural community out of the reforms because the vast majority of farm workers do not use the work centers to seek jobs.

The absence of the E-Verify requirement is a victory for the business community but puts the two chambers at odds: The House plan (HB 7089) includes E-Verify and the ability for law enforcement to request documentation of immigration status during criminal investigations.

In contrast, Alexander’s amendment, expected to be offered today, would require law enforcement officials to “make a reasonable effort” to ascertain immigration status after someone has been arrested.

Immigration advocates, who’ve thronged the Capitol for months and held daily press conferences pleading with lawmakers to
drop the reforms, had pushed for post-conviction rather than post-arrest checks of immigration. They contend the post-arrest component is problematic because driving without a drivers license, which some undocumented immigrants do, is a vehicle for racial profiling.

Immigration protests continue, Senate looks to ease up on biz, will hear bill Tuesday

Monday, May 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Hundreds of immigrants continued their protests inside the Capitol on Monday as Senate GOP leaders craft reforms that would ease up on the House’s penalties against businesses that don’t use the E-verify system.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos said this afternoon that the Senate will take up and vote on its bill (SB 2040) tomorrow.

Before and after the Senate’s lunch break, immigrants – many of them children – and knelt in prayer outside the hallway leading into the back entrance to the chamber.

During the recess, they swarmed senators’ offices – including Palm Beach County’s Lizbeth Benacquisto’s – pleading with them to abandon their effots.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, in charge of the chamber’s immigration package, has yet to release his proposal. During the lunch break, U.S. Sugar – one of the many agricultural businesses opposed to the reforms – lobbyist Robert Coker was inside Alexander’s office as immigrants lined the walls outside.

Alexander’s proposal is likely to include a modification of the House’s plan that would require businesses to use E-verify when hiring new employees and punishing those who do not use the federal system by yanking their licenses to do business in Florida. His plan include a fine for businesses that don’t comply with E-verify and take out the licensing provision, said Senate GOP leaders and business lobbyists working on the deal.

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Senate immigration leader has serious reservations about reforms

Friday, April 29th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, a citrus farmer who’s now shepherding a developing immigration reform package, expressed his reservations about the push to deport illegal immigrants, many of whom have lived in the state for decades picking fruit and vegetables for his colleagues.

Alexander, R-Lake Wales, said he’s concerned about the fallout from the federal E-Verify program to check on potential employees, something Gov. Rick Scott has already initiated for state government workers and a component tea party activists are pushing lawmakers to pass.

“My personal struggle with E-Verify is that many of these folks have been here for decades for good or for bad,” he said.

In “a perfect world” the federal government would control the borders but instead has given tacit permission for illegal workers to remain in the country, Alexander said.

“It seems challenging to suddenly ask them to not be able to be here. I personally believe we need a federal guest program to allow for some sort of normalization of these folks status where they can be protected by our laws without fear of deportation,” he said. “Because some of these things have been going on for so long, I’m personally troubled by the broad net that could be cast.”

Alexander said he’s having a hard time balancing his duties as budget chief and agricultural baron as he tries to get his blueberry crop harvested.

“I’m probably short about 100 people to get my blueberries picked,” he said, adding that he and other blueberry farmers can find less than half the workers they need to get their crops in.

“For all the unemployment there just aren’t folks who want to pick blueberries,” he said.

The Senate is slated to take up its immigration package on Monday. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, had pledged that each bill would pass through at least three committees before being sent to the floor for a vote. But he reversed himself on the contentious immigration measure (SB 2040), which was heard in a single committee. Haridopolos also took the bill away from its sponsor, Sen. Anitere Flores, and gave it to Alexander this week. Flores, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami, refused to go along with the Arizona-style bill proposed by the House, sponsored by William Snyder, R-Stuart.

Hundreds of immigrants, including undocumented workers, and children whose parents have been deported have swarmed the Capitol over the past several weeks demanding that lawmakers abandon the immigration package.

Senate Saturday session includes Medicaid, immigration still on hold

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

As budget talks on health and human services appropriations stalled, the Senate is moving forward with its Medicaid overhaul. Senate GOP leaders have not scheduled the immigration bill for Saturday, although only two hours of notice are required to add it to the agenda.

The Senate will take up its proposal (SB 1972) on Saturday along with dozens of local bills and Senate confirmations of Gov. Rick Scott’s appointees. But no word yet on whether the chamber will address immigration reform, still in flux as Senate Budget Chief J.D. Alexander, now shepherding the bill (SB 2040), weighs his options.

The House and Senate are both looking to put most of the state’s 2.9 million Medicaid patients into HMO-style plans. But differences abound between the two approaches. The Senate would divide the state into 19 regions, based on state court circuits; the House proposes eight.

The chambers are far apart on immigration reform as well. The House’s Arizona-style plan is on hold as the Senate considers a more moderate approach.
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Senate in session on Saturday, no budget committee today

Thursday, April 28th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate will be in session on Saturday, Senate President Mike Haridopolos said.

Haridopolos has ordered the rare weekend session to try to finish up work before the scheduled end of the legislative session next Friday.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity on a bill to have their voice heard. I think that’s worked out very well for us. It’s reduced a lot of the tension,” said Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island.

Haridopolos, who is running for U.S. Senate, said that lawmakers would be in town anyway as they negotiate differences between the two chambers’ budgets and other priority bills.

“It just makes sense that we would have a Saturday session and make the best use our time since we’re all going to be here anyway,” he said.

Adding to the delay is a postponement to a Senate Budget Committee meeting where an immigration package hangs in the balance as GOP leaders from the House and Senate try to work out a deal with Gov. Rick Scott before taking a floor vote.

That meeting won’t meet today, Haridopolos said, but could meet tomorrow, making it possible the Senate could take up its immigration proposal on Saturday.

Immigration bill headed to House floor

Thursday, April 14th, 2011 by Dara Kam

From The News Service of Florida:

“Following two hours of sometimes tearful testimony and despite united opposition from Florida’ business and agricultural community, the House Economic Affairs Committee on Thursday approved a controversial immigration measure (HB 7089) requires employers to verify the status of new hires and allows police to ask criminal suspects to prove they are in the country legally.

The bill passed on an 11-7 vote along party lines, with Republicans winning the day. The bill now travels to the House floor.”

Meanwhile, a Senate committee yesterday postponed a vote on their measure (SB 2040)in hopes of getting Gov. Rick Scott on board. Scott’s insisting that immigration reform allow law enforcement officials to ask for documentation during investigation into illegal activity. But that’s something GOP leaders in the Senate may not have the votes to pass.

Florida immigration reform: 67 mini-Arizonas?

Monday, April 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

On the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination 43 years ago, immigrants and advocates rallied in the Capitol to protest immigration reforms one said would turn Florida into “67 little Arizonas.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is hearing a measure (SB 2040) this afternoon that would, among other things, authorize sheriffs to enter agreements with federal officials that would allow them to operate as immigration agents.

That could be dangerous, immigrant advocates cautioned, because that component was the cornerstone of Arizona’s much-maligned immigration reforms, many of which state lawmakers there are now rethinking.

The bill would “county-by-county implement little Arizonas all over Florida,” said Subhash Kateel, an organizer with the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We don’t need 67 Arizonas in our state.”

Betzy Rega, an American citizen of Guatemalan descent, traveled from Jupiter to attend the hearing.

She said she’s afraid the bill would give the green light to police officers and sheriffs’ deputies for racial profiling.

Rega said her dark-skinned nephew was interrogated by Palm Beach County sheriffs two years ago and accused of kidnapping his own, lighter-skinned son.

Laws like Arizona’s are “feeding into the frenzy of racism,” Rega said. “We’re on a very dangerous track and it’s a form of abuse of power.”

House committee passes Arizona-lite immigration bill

Thursday, March 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A House committee approved a somewhat watered-down immigration bill that would allow law enforcement officials to demand proof of citizenship during an arrest or criminal investigation and require businesses to verify that employees are in the country legally.

Judiciary Committee Chairman William Snyder, R-Stuart, sponsored the bill (PCB JDC 11-01) included several concessions to business groups and others concerned that an Arizona-style measure, among other things, would scare off tourists.

Unlike Arizona’s law, police would not be allowed to request documentation during traffic stops but would be permitted to request papers during criminal investigations or arrests or if they have a “reasonable suspicion” someone may be engaging in criminal activity.

But the modifications of Snyder’s original proposal did not appease opponents.
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Scott sticks to AZ-style immigration reform

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott is holding fast to his support for an Arizona-style immigration reform for Florida despite recent comments from state GOP leaders, including Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, that it could be bad for business.

Scott, who campaigned on the issue, said this morning that law enforcement officers should be able to ask for immigration documentation, including during routine traffic stops.

“The federal government needs to secure our borders. We need to have an overall immigration policy that is logical and that works and is fair to Americans and fair to people that want to come to our country that we invite to come to our country,” Scott told reporters this morning.

“At the same time, I also believe that if you’re in our country and you do something illegally, you should be able to be asked just like I get asked for my ID if I ever get a traffic ticket, they should be asked if they’re legal or not. I clearly don’t believe in racial profiling,” Scott said.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, said yesterday he does not favor an Arizona-style law.

And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, fresh from a decade in Congress trying to address the immigration issue, said he believes an Arizona-style law would be bad for tourism and finance in Florida.

Senate holds civilized immigration reform meeting, stresses ‘decorum’

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Dara Kam

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.
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