From TBO.com, Lindsay Peterson, Tampa Tribune, 30 Apr 2011.
TALLAHASSEE, FL — Senate President Mike Haridopolos said he expects a long debate Monday on an immigration bill that has followed a tortured path in the Senate this session.
This week, he asked veteran Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to take over the bill from its sponsor, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, a Cuban-American, who angered pro-immigrant groups with her bill but also displeased Haridopolos, who didn’t think it was tough enough.
Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, said Friday that he wants to add measures requiring the state to check applicants’ immigration status with the federal E-Verify system when they seek state aid or work force agency jobs.
But Haridopolos isn’t getting a hard-liner in Alexander, a Polk County grower who relies on immigrant workers.
Alexander said Friday that he still didn’t know what would be in the bill he plans to propose Monday.
“These are not easy issues. … We are trying to find a reasoned answer.”
Alexander’s district is largely conservative and many of his constituents don’t like having immigrants who aren’t legal residents in Florida and the United States, he said.
At the same time, he doesn’t believe the answer is forcing them to leave.
“In a perfect world we would control our borders, and I believe we should, (but) folks have been here through essentially tacit permission of the government for decades. It seems challenging to suddenly ask them to not be here,” Alexander said.
Also, they accept jobs that others won’t, he said.
“We have a large agricultural community and other employers that have jobs that are difficult jobs that a lot of Americans just don’t want to do.”
Alexander said he needed 100 more people for his current blueberry harvest. His workers make what amounts to about $9 an hour, but “for all the unemployment, there’s not a lot of folks that want to come out and pick blueberries.”
He said he uses E-Verify to check the status of people who come to his farms for work. When they are rejected, he gives them eight days to return with the necessary documents to prove their legal residency.
The E-Verify measures Haridopolos seeks would bring the Senate immigration bill more in line with the House bill, which has several tougher provisions.
It would make being in Florida illegally a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.
It would also authorize law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status if that person has been arrested or is the subject of a criminal investigation and the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is not a legal resident.
This isn’t as harsh as the controversial Arizona bill, which required police officers to check a person’s immigration status during routine encounters, such as traffic stops, if the officers suspected the person was not a legal resident.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an injunction against this and other provisions of the Arizona bill.
Florida House members have yet to act on their bill, which elicited prayers and tears from immigrant protesters two weeks ago in a committee meeting.
Immigrants with green T-shirts saying, “We are Florida” and “Somos Florida” have filled the capital nearly every day this week, chanting and carrying signs.
One evening, hundreds packed a committee room to meet with Alexander. Another day, dozens of them carried baskets of peppers and other vegetables.
The debate sets two ends of the Republican Party against each other, the business interests that don’t want to lose the immigrant labor and more conservative groups that are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration.
Haridopolos is caught between the two, needing the support of both for his U.S. Senate campaign.
To Alexander, the immigrants and businesses that need their labor are also caught in the politics of the issue. “They are effectively simply pawns in this big battle,” he said.
The best solution is for the federal government to act to control the borders while also “finding a way to normalize the status of these folks,” Alexander said.