A review panel is flirting with the idea of implementing a vexed employment verification system into the state constitution to weed out undocumented immigrants before they enter the workforce.
The proposal (P29) cleared the Constitution Revision Commission’s General Provisions Committee on Tuesday, following a long stretch of public comment with clashing viewpoints on the federal system, called E-Verify.
Commissioner Rich Newsome, an appointee of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, dubbed himself an “accidental sponsor” of the proposal that aims to make sure businesses are hiring legal workers. Newsome said he also took it on to protect “the greatest, most hard-working undocumented immigrants” from labor exploitation.
“When you have a black market, when you go to an illegal industry that is in the business of hiring folks who are not documented, the folks who are in that process have no recourse under the law,” Newsome said.
Adam Blalock, an attorney with the Florida Farm Bureau, however, said such a proposal would significantly harm the agriculture business, adding that crops would go unpicked and rot because the domestic supply of workers is not enough.
“The ag community is not opposed to E-Verify or immigration reform, but the reality is that if it is put in place, there will be a labor shortage in the ag industry in the state,” Blalock said. “We’ve seen in other states, that after implementing it they saw an exodus of labor in ag.”
To counter that point, a group of five men bombarded panel members with arguments on how much good the federal employment system would do for the state’s public safety.
But unsubstantiated claims about the crimes undocumented immigrants commit were sprinkled into those arguments, including one that said undocumented immigrants have committed 40 percent of all murders in the state. There is no conclusive data to support that claim.
Following testimony, panel members voted in support of the system, but expressed concern about the impact it would have on agriculture.
The American Civil Liberties Union has publicly said for some years that the system could present “enormous privacy and security risks” for immigrants currently cleared to work because it is riddled with inaccuracies.
“I don’t believe we are burdening anyone for making them do this,” Commissioner Sherry Plymale said.
Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order six years ago which mandated employers use the system. The economic impact of that order was not discussed before the panel.
The proposal now heads to the Executive Committee, but a date has not yet been set. If it does pass, the measure would go before all commissioners, who will then decide whether it should go on the November ballot. It would then need 60 percent of the votes to be amended into the state constitution.
“At the end of the day, voters don’t vote on statistics,” Newsome said. “What people think about when they vote is if they see a problem, how we need to address it.”