It’s official- Florida lawmakers are pushing for a watered-down version of Arizona’s strict immigration laws. These will be considered during the 60-day legislative session beginning today. They claim this is part of a broad effort by a coalition of states to enact laws that will force Washington to create a uniform set of immigration reforms. Florida Senate President-Pro-Temp, Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) calls the proposals “immigration light” and told the Associated Press that “[n]othing out of Florida is going to resemble Arizona. A lot of it is to get the federal government to take notice and take action.” Yet although lawmakers may believe this to be an act of defiance against the federal government- the one and only to actually possess the power to control and enact immigration laws- they must give serious thought as to the consequences these laws would bring since, as it has been said before, reverberations often surprise.
The truth of the matter is that Sen. Bennett’s initial bill, which was accompanied by one filed by State Rep. William Snyder (R-Stuart), did resemble the Arizona law. The bill made it a misdemeanor not to carry proof of citizenship or valid immigration papers but made no mention of tourist or temporary work visas, both of which are far more common in Florida than they are in Arizona- and which, of course, led most to believe that the proposed bills were not tailored to Florida’s needs but were just copy-cat bills aimed at disenfranchising immigrants in our state. And when critics flooded Sen. Bennett with their disapproval, his attempt at damage control was to disassociate himself with the bill by saying that he had not read the bill before putting his name on it- something that, as a public official, calls into question his ethics, at the very least. Sen. Bennett has said that he predicts similar legislation will be passed in over a dozen states around the country this year and has kept in contact with counterparts in Arkansas, Missouri, California and Texas. Moreover, it would appear that our state’s lawmakers want to imitate other regressive laws by jumping in the same bandwagon with states that have a completely different population and economic base than ours, for which reason if their policies were to be implemented, they would leave Florida spiraling downhill.
We- the community of immigrants, advocates, attorneys, and legal representatives- are not alone in the ranks of the opposition. Some law enforcement agencies say the measures could create unfunded burdens on them, while business groups say it may scare off foreign investment from immigrant entrepreneurs and hamper international tourism. Besides voicing her concern that some of the provisions from the Arizona bill may end up making their way into the bill’s final version, Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the latest bills “divert time and energy from what really ails us. These are not going to get us more jobs. They’re not going to cut down on foreclosures.” Moreover, there are so many real and pressing problems that continue to affect the residents of our state that it is appalling that our lawmakers are dedicating so much time, energy, and resources to a problem that is altogether outside the scope of their employment. Thus, since they cannot legally regulate immigration, the fact that they are dwelling on this issue leads us to believe their motives for doing so are either because they are so shortsighted that they cannot grasp the severity of the day-to-day problems people are facing, or, perhaps it may be that they are utilizing the immigration issue as an attempt to deflect attention away from those urgent matters and as a means to distract the public from their failure to address them or their otherwise lack of competency or resolve to deal with them.
While this topic remains a glaring source of tension, our immigration lawyers in Miami , Orlando , Weston , and other major cities of the Sunshine State will continue to fight for the rights of the people that make up this great state.