This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided to loosen up the requirements for local law enforcement agents to try to enforce federal immigration laws. This issue forms the centerpiece of a nationwide debate, one that has been closely followed by Floridians from either side of the divide. This new measure indicates that the state legislature intends to move forward with their strict immigration-enforcement bill in spite of the fact that Arizona- the state that paved the way for this kind of proposal- had their immigration law stricken down and barred from taking effect by a court of appeals. Because the Florida bill is a nearly exact copy of Arizona’s failed attempt to enforce immigration, we cannot help but wonder if there is any point in going through with this measure at all? Perhaps Florida lawmakers simply desire to have our regional court of appeals decree the unconstitutionality of their intended acts to their faces? If our elected officials do not feel obliged to act in accordance with national law is one thing, but them not wanting to hear what their constituents have to say is another- and completely unacceptable. Word to the wise: be careful, not hasty; you may just be walking onto an unsteady plank that is wavering on the edge of an abyss.
What was meant to be a public meeting with a panel of senators where Florida constituents could actively participate in a debate to make changes to a bill, ended up being a committee of senators speeding through a hearing on the bill without allowing most immigration advocates who had traveled to the Capitol in protest to speak. Hundreds of activists, immigrants, and children from Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Broward Counties went to testify against the bill by Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami). In its original form, the proposal would have mandated that the Florida Department of Corrections, Department of Law Enforcement, and local sheriff departments enter into agreements to work alongside the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in order to enforce federal immigration laws. However, this was amended so as to no longer require these departments to come to an agreement. Instead, they would be able to evaluate the additional expense and work that would be created by carrying out the agreements and assess whether they could feasibly add immigration enforcement to their list of policing duties. The bill was also changed to clarify what alternatives employers would have to using the federal government’s E-Verify system for checking the immigration status of prospective employees.
During this supposedly public debate, only one opponent was allowed to voice his opinion as the committee rushed through a heavy agenda. If that were not enough, the committee of senators only debated the proposal and its amendments for about fifteen minutes. “I know that it’s not perfect, but I can tell you it’s not possible to be perfect,” said Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs). In the end, the bill managed to get the number of votes necessarily for it to move forward. In reaction to this, the advocates chanted, “Let us speak! Let us speak!” And they swarmed Sen. Flores urging her to hear their pleas and reminding her in Spanish that she is Hispanic. At which point the Senator took pains to explain to them that the bill is not as bad as they think, arguing that she chose to head the immigration debate because otherwise, someone less receptive would have led the charge.
Surely we do not expect our state government representatives to be all-knowing and perfectionists; but we do expect them to exert a certain degree of intelligence when dealing with matters that can alter the socio-economic workings of our state, in the same way we expect them to be willing to listen to what the people that help put them in office have to say with open-mindedness. While it can be said that this meeting was victorious for managing to tone down some of the restrictive language included in the bill, the achievements fall short in the communication department. The fact remains that the Senators were more eager to get through their to-do list than to be attentive and receptive to their constituents’ pleas.