Lawmaker Wears His “Papers” in Tallahassee

Steve Goldstein This week, a three-hour briefing took place for the sole purpose of introducing the new lawmakers that have taken office with the current complex U.S. immigration laws. One of the main discussion points were centered on the new bills that have been proposed by the new GOP (Republican) leaders who favor a tougher stance against illegal immigrants. The meeting raised doubts as some questioned the adverse impact it could have on the state’s tourism industry. The new Governor Rick Scott, who advocated reform during his campaign trail, and Attorney General Pam Bondi both favor stronger immigration laws similar to the one in Arizona, although one speaker cautioned them that a similar measure in Florida could damage public relations and would likely hurt the state’s economy.

Senator Mike Bennet (R-Bradenton, FL) has filed an Arizona-style bill that, during a legal stop or arrest, would allow the police to ask for a detainee’s immigration documents if an officer suspects the individual is in the country illegally. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has meanwhile issued a statement saying it strongly opposes such legislation, and has also stated that it is against a measure that requires businesses to use a federal database to check the status of new hires along with subjecting illegal immigrants who commit crimes to harsher penalties than legal immigrants or U.S. citizens would be subjected to. Lawmakers were told that as many as 725,000 unauthorized immigrants reside in the sunshine state, about three times more than there were back in 1990. It is reported that the state prison system houses 5,641 undocumented immigrants and about 80,000 undocumented children are enrolled in our state’s public schools.

“We’re frustrated,” said Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine, FL), “[what’s a state to do?” Sen. Alan Hays of Umatilla said, “[m]y sense right now is we have a real need for some quick action.” The Senate’s Judiciary Committee chair, Sen. Anitere Flores, conceded that the meeting ended with “[m]ore questions than we have answers. This is such an emotionally charged issue…We should not make hasty decisions.” Florida International University law professor Ediberto Roman had the following to say, “Solutions and proposals need to be brought by the states. That is a problem that states and the federal government have been dealing with for a century.”

As the immigration debate gets underway in the Florida legislature, Representative Luis Garcia (D-Miami) has decided to wear his passport around his neck as he goes about his business, in an effort to show what life could be like if Florida passes an Arizona-style immigration law. Rep. Garcia, who was born in Cuba, said, “I’ve been living in this country for 50 years. I’m more American than anything else.” He stated that when he is at home in his district he is surrounded by people who look and speak like he does. It is not until he travels north to Tallahassee when the legislature is in session that his accent and appearance could be cause for “suspicion” under an Arizona-style law that would require him to prove his right to be in the country or risk being detained. For this reason coupled with his aim of making a point, he walks the halls of the Capitol wearing his “papers” just in case.

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