Senate approves E-Verify requirement, sends to House for approval

Tom Lee
But the bill remains divisive as the House prepares to vote.

The Senate passed legislation requiring Florida businesses to confirm whether employees are eligible to legally work in the United States.

The mandatory E-Verify legislation (SB 664) was passed 22-18 in the Senate, with North Florida Republican George Gainer joining with Democrats voting no.

Sen. Tom Lee, the Thonotosassa Republican sponsoring the bill, acknowledged immigration issues are divisive, but characterized the bill as simply verifying business are following federal law.

“Federal law says it is illegal to hire somebody in the country to work if that person is not authorized to work in the United States of America,” Lee said.

Employers right now can confirm eligibility using I-9 forms from the federal government, or they can access the E-Verify database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

Lee’s bill will require companies to do so, and allows the Department of Economic Opportunity to suspend or strip away business licenses from companies knowingly violating the law.

While the bill ultimately garnered support from most Republicans, an E-Verify requirement has been controversial for years. GOP leadership in both chambers of the Legislature voiced serious doubts about the subject along the way.

But Lee expressed some hopefulness the language passed by the Senate represents a final form for the bill.

The bill has been critiqued on the right and the left.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said Lee’s bill goes beyond verifying employment. He sees the bill both expanding the degree to which government tracks individuals living here, and effectively turning the Department of Economic Opportunity into an immigration enforcement arm.

He expressed the greatest fear over provisions allowing individuals to report a business to the DEO if they suspect it is hiring undocumented workers. If DEO determines that indeed is happening, the agency must report the matter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“You are effectively calling ICE, but the Department of Economic Opportunity does it for you and you have a state agency calling,” Rodriguez said.

And while Lee has stressed the legislation applies only to new hires, Rodriguez said there will be no way for the DEO to confirm if an undocumented worker was in place before or after the bill became law.

That concern seemed to be why Gainer broke party lines. He voiced concern last week about how the bill would affect farms who may have undocumented workers who nonetheless have been on payroll for decades.

Concerns were also raised about the accuracy of the E-Verify database as a whole. Lee said the system was 98.5% accurate, “about as accurate as anything I’ve seen come out of this Legislature in 20 years.”

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who co-introduced the bill, also stressed the low rate of bad information kicked back by the database, and said that can be remedied in individual situations.

More important, Gruters said the bill would take away the top incentive for new immigrants to illegally travel to Florida, the promise of work. The potential law “turns off the spigot of illegal immigration,” he said.

The American Business Immigration Coalition, however, immediately pushed back at Gruters’ characterization. The group said Green Card holders were subject to high error rates, four times the rate of those for U.S. citizens.

Meanwhile, states like Mississippi that have E-Verify requirements in place still suffer problems with illegal immigration. Indeed, recent federal raids led to 680 undocumented workers in that state being detained.

In truth, both businesses and workers will find ways to get around E-Verify requirements, ABIC predicts, but it will still contribute to a hostile environment for workers while allowing vindictive reports to be made to the DEO.

The House still has to vote on legislation on the House floor. Companion legislation (HB 1265) from Rep. Cord Byrd was postponed on second reading Friday.

That appeared to be done to allow an amendment to Lee’s bill in the Senate to adopt some provisions from the House. High-level negotiations on E-Verify have been taking place between the House, Senate and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. Officials speaking for DeSantis declined to comment on the bill passed in the Senate.

Speaker José Oliva has voiced certain concerns about E-Verify legislation before. At a time when Lee’s bill included a carveout for agriculture, Oliva said he wanted a clean bill. But he also suggested the state move carefully into making private businesses act as enforcers of the law.

“If in fact Florida businesses are made to be a certain policing arm,” Oliva said, “for the government, then yes it should be done equally.”

Lee addressed such concerns on the floor as well, noting private businesses already need internal checks for a variety of other laws, from calculating taxes to maintaining a nonhostile work environment.

But critics can be counted on to say a hostile environment will be exactly what E-Verify rules create.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].

One comment

  • Robert Allen Windham

    March 10, 2020 at 9:33 am

    I want to state up front that the following comments are from me alone – I am representing myself. In opposition to the E-verify proposal before the last Constitution Revision Commission the American Business Immigrant Coalition (ABIC) and IMPAC Fund stated that there was a 12% E-verify error rate. Here is what Brian Burgess wrote in an online article on April 12, 2018 in The Capitolist titled: Busted: Business Group Led By Mike Fernandez Pushed Bogus Data to Fight Tougher CRC Immigration Proposal: “But the Fernandez led group of 70 business leaders, who oppose E-verify to reign in the illegal hiring of illegal aliens in Florida quoted from a report that intentionally used bogus data. Virtually every statistic in the group’s economic doomsday report was computed by pulling a single data point from a decade-old audit that actually concluded the exact opposite of what the business leaders said would happen.
    The American Business Immigration Coalition admitted later in the day that it cherry-picked an inflated 12 percent error rate that was reported by a single company in 2007, instead of using the latest comprehensive federal data from hundreds of thousands of companies across the nation, which is easily obtained and was updated as recently as 2018 .”
    Burges goes on to write: “Fernandez and DiMare used the report to describe an economic “Armageddon” of statistics based entirely on the bogus 12 percent error number, including false claims that mandatory E-Verify could:
    Cost Florida employers as much as $4.7 billion dollars trying replace lost workers; result in 4.6 million hours of lost work in Florida alone; cause 1.1 million legal Florida workers to face job delays or lost work
    All of those figures were computed using the bogus “12 percent” error rate, and in most cases, are directly contradicted by the very reports that the group later cited in their own report’s footnotes that were ostensibly included to bolster its own credibility. For example, the report cites a report from the CATO institute that 1,173,360 legal Florida workers could lose their jobs or miss work because of errors. But the CATO report never actually makes that claim.”
    Burgess goes on in his article to state: “In short, the very audit report that Mike Fernandez, Paul DiMare and the American Business Immigration Coalition used to underpin their bogus claims actually concluded exactly the opposite: that E-Verify works and is extremely accurate.” So we have already seen that ABIC and IMPAC Fund are willing to use fraudulent data in their opposition to E- verify. Why should we believe anything they say now about E-verify?

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