A decade ago a fight broke out in Florida over whether to require businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure employees are eligible to work in the United States. The solution at the time was an executive order by then-Governor Rick Scott requiring state employers use E-Verify. Now the idea is back: pitched by governor Ron DeSantis and it’s no less controversial than it was a decade ago.
Last year, DeSantis was able to get Florida lawmakers to pass rules banning so-called Sanctuary Cities. A large part of his gubernatorial campaign was geared at cracking down on unauthorized immigration—no matter that those rates have declined over the past decade.
During DeSantis' gubernatorial campaign he ran an ad featuring he and his daughter building a wall of blocks and incorporating President Donald Trump's anti-immigration slogan.
This year, DeSantis is trying to get the Florida Legislature to mandate both public and private employers use the federal government’s E-Verify system to determine a person’s work eligibility.
“This is the law that’s in existence," DeSantis told reporters following his recent State-of-the-State address to the Legislature. "So it’s basically a mechanism to make sure we have a legal workforce. It’s not changing existing eligibility law. It’s just making sure it’s being enforced.”
“Here we are," said state Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami). She's been in the Legisalture for 10 years, and has seen this fight before, back when former governor and now U.S. Senator Rick Scott settled for an executive order when it became clear there wasn’t enough Republican support to mandate E-Verify for private businesses.
"And we don’t seem to be any closer to a consensus on how to find a balance between welcoming immigrants and ensuring we have safety," Flores said.
“If we really want to talk about combating illegal immigration, e-verify is a framework…the challenge is in its implementation. How do we make it so that employers aren’t overly burdened from a time perspective, a cost perspective…and this is a federal program. We’re not in charge of it.”
Her concerns echo those of Senate President Bill Galvano.
“At the heart of my caution is burden on private entities," he said after making opening remarks to the Senate on the first day of the 2020 Legislative session. "A proposal could be something that helps us find a middle ground."
Speaking of middle Ground—Republican Senator and Party Chairman Joe Gruters and Rep. Cord Byrd have a bill that acts as a potential middle ground of sorts. It requirements state employers, contractors and subcontractors to use the E-Verify system. Private employers would have to ensure their employees are eligible to work in the U.S. but can do so through other mechanisms.
“I think that the compromise of starting off with the public sector, that’s reasonable and something that would probably pass. Because at that point you have us saying okay, before we impose this on the government sector, let’s try it on ourselves first," said Flores.
But will the governor be willing to compromise?
“He was clear the entirety of his campaign and he’s rolled it out as one of his legislative priorities. We’ll continue to monitor it and see if what comes out of the Senate and the House and at that point I guess the governor will make a determination of whether he feels its sufficient enough for his priority," said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez.