Could Anti-Immigration Laws Hurt Florida Tourism

While the Florida legislature considers tough immigration enforcement bills that are like Arizona’s in style, the state of Arizona is stepping back form its stringent anti-immigrant stance. And while Utah is among the most conservative states in the country, it has passed a law that would give many undocumented workers statewide legal residence, the first such measure signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert despite the opposition from the state’s tea party that demanded he veto it. In both cases, business leaders in those states were instrumental in moderating these immigration enforcement laws. Meanwhile, Florida business lobbies are also fighting what they consider overly restrictive immigration bills before the state legislature.

In recognition of the fact that the state of Arizona lost millions of dollars in tourism and convention business after it passed its law last April, the spokesperson for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Edie Ousley, has been campaigning against an overly restrictive new law in our state. “We want to help ensure that we don’t create an economic boycott,” he said in fear of the striking possibility an Arizona-style law would drive businesses away from investing in the state. He was vocal about his position that new immigration laws should not endanger the tourism and international business industries, and should not jeopardize Florida’s position as a nationwide supplier of fruits and vegetables.

On the other side of the issue is the tea party group in Florida whose members insist on the strict enforcement of federal immigration laws, disregarding the consequences such a stringent policy would have on the economic conditions of the state. “The tea party helped get a lot of officials into office last election cycle,” said Tim McClellan, a Broward County tea party spokesman. “Why should we give the decision-making powers to business people who are in it to keep labor costs low and increase their profits? What is good for them may not be good for the average working person- especially if people allowed to stay in the country would be taking jobs away from Americans down the line.”

As such, what has occurred in Florida- as it has in Utah and Arizona also- is that political conservatives and business leaders, two groups that have traditionally been united, are now greatly divided by this issue. In Arizona the private sector played an important role in defeating some of the controversial bills, with many business owners signing petitions stating that their economy could not risk more boycotts. Mike Carlton, the spokesman for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, a major player in Florida’s $7.5 billion agricultural industry, applauded the measures taken by legislators in Utah. In acknowledgment of the benefits it would bring for the state’s economy, he said: “I think it’s a way of avoiding a negative impact on the state of Utah, the kind of negative impact Arizona-style legislation would have here in Florida.”

Even though Arizona is admitting that their measures (many of which have been blocked from going into effect by an Appellate Court) have been an economic disaster, Florida is still going through with their failed proposition. While Utah is trying to find real solutions, so far legislators in Florida have chosen to follow in Arizona’s footsteps and not admit they can similarly do a lot of damage to our economy in the process.

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