by Jeff Gore
With the torrent of news coming from Tallahassee about budget cuts and uteruses, proposed changes to Florida’s immigration laws have gotten relatively scant attention. At least ten different bills – SB 2040 (Unauthorized Immigrants) SB 136 / HB 237 (Enforcement of Immigration Laws), SB 518 / HB691 (Verification of Employment Eligibility), SB 304 / HB 205 (Illegal or Undocumented Aliens), SB 1114 (Verification of a Prisoner’s Immigration Status), SB 230 (Enforcement of Immigration Laws), and SB 1896 (Enforcement of Laws) – have been introduced in the Florida legislature this session. If passed, the bills would broaden police authority to question people about their immigration status and obligate employers to use the E-Verify work authorization system, among many other changes.
House legislators have distanced themselves from Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which was passed in April of last year and obligates police to determine a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal alien.
Yet opponents of the proposed legislation argue that the immigration bills are nothing but Arizona’s SB 1070 “in disguise.” That was the theme of a protest against the bills held yesterday afternoon outside the Republican State Sen. David Simmons’ Altamonte Springs office, where protestors donned Groucho Marx glasses and chanted “We are America!”
Simmons sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is slated to vote on SB 2040 Monday afternoon. The bill would, among many other things, direct “arresting agencies to make reasonable efforts to determine whether arrestees are present in the United States lawfully.” Simmons was not at his office when the protestors arrived, but organizer Katie Gillett said Simmons called her and made it clear that he would be voting for the bill.
“Even though representatives are saying these are not Arizona bills, they’re going to have the same consequences here in Florida,” says Lariza Garzon of the National Farm Worker Ministry Youth and Young Adult Network. Garzon says that the bills would create unnecessary extra work for law enforcement, which was also a sentiment expressed by Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings at a luncheon in January.
(Also floating around at the event were copies of “The Utah Compact,” a “declaration of principles to guide Utah’s immigration discussion” which argues that local law enforcement “should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.”)
Demographically speaking, the protest was a diverse affair—when a three people were allowed up to Simmons’ office to deliver 320 petitions against the bill, the group sent a student activist, a nun, and a Latino farmworker. Around 40 people were in attendance, making a tight loop on a sidewalk alongside Maitland Avenue to avoid trespassing charges.
Nancy Rudner Lugo, who attended the protest and owns a business which employs bilingual workers, says that proposed immigration bills, if passed, would have a "deleterious" effect on local businesses. “It’s hard to believe now with the economic situation we’re in, but we’re going to have a real shortage of labor,” Lugo says.
The volume of immigration bills introduced this year is disheartening to Sister Ann Kendrick, who works for the Hope Community Center, an organization based in Apopka which caters to immigrant families. “In the 40 years I’ve been working in the Central Florida community, I’ve never seen such a mean-spirited, vitriolic atmosphere,” she says. “Part of me wants to stand on the border and say: you’re going to find more trouble here than is worth it.”