Awaiting the Fate of Stricter Immigration Legislation in Florida

Even after a U.S. Court of Appeals blocked the enforcement of parts of Arizona's controversial immigration reforms last year, the Florida Legislature attempted to pass similar legislation in their recent session. Neither the House nor the Senate bill addressing immigration reform passed by the end of session in early May, however. So, until the next Florida Legislature session commences, both proponents and protestors of stricter immigration laws in Florida will have to await the fate of the proposed changes.

House and Senate Bills

Florida House Bill 7089 sought to allow any law enforcement officer to verify a person's immigration status if the officer had any suspicion of illegal immigration. This rule would especially apply to anyone under criminal investigation, even if not currently under arrest. The legislation also aimed to make any illegal presence in the U.S. a criminal misdemeanor, even though this is a less-severe civil violation federally. Finally, the house bill mandated employers to use E-Verify to confirm the eligibility of new employees to work in the U.S.

The final version of Florida Senate Bill 2040 did pass before the end of the recent session, but it was too late for the House to review and vote on it. This bill permitted employers to use driver's licenses to verify U.S. work eligibility. The main goal of this bill was not to criminalize illegal immigration, but to ensure that employers are hiring properly-documented workers during a time of high unemployment. As opposed to the House version, this bill did not give officers special immigration policing powers.

Proponents and Protestors

One of Florida Governor Rick Scott's campaign promises last year was to pass an Arizona-style immigration law, which is basically what the House attempted to do with its bill. Other republican and tea-party groups are also behind this stricter immigration reform, even though larger businesses, religious factions and immigration advocates oppose it. Right up until the session ended in early May, there were protests and vigils at Florida's state capitol against the immigration legislation.

Until Next Session

Both those that believe the state must act because the federal government will not, and those that oppose the criminalization of illegal immigrants will have to await the fate of these changes. While the time between Florida legislative sessions gives both sides of the immigration reform debate time to regroup, this legislation will likely be back in both the House and Senate next year. If you have questions about the impact that reforms like these may have on Florida immigrants, or immigrants in any state that seeks to pass similar reforms, contact an experienced immigration attorney today.

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