The Florida legislature had the opportunity to do some real good for Americans and lawful workers in the state who are unemployed, underemployed, working low-wage jobs, or who have just given up looking for work.
That's because the legislature was, for the first time, considering passage of a bill that would have mandated statewide use of E-Verify, the federal program that, using modern technology and online processing, permits employers to confirm through immigration and Social Security records that new hires are legally entitled to work in the United States.
I use the past tense because, for all intents and purposes, both the Florida House and Florida Senate blew it by filing a host of unworkable and poison-pill amendments that leached the utility of the bill as originally introduced. So much so that the original Senate sponsor has said that if the bill in its altered form passes both chambers of the legislature, he would encourage Governor Ron DeSantis (who is a supporter of E-Verify) to veto it. Worse, the two fundamentally altered versions of the bill as passed by the Florida House and Senate are so different as to be irreconcilable. That's because, through parliamentary maneuvering, the already bastardized Senate bill was completely replaced with a different and even worse version in the House. As the Washington Examiner has noted, this impasse sets "the stage for a late-session showdown between the chambers."
Here's the most curious and dispiriting part about the whole debacle: Republicans hold the majority in the Florida House; Republicans hold the majority in the Florida Senate; and Governor DeSantis is a Republican. How, then, could this have happened?
The answer clearly is that, even now, there are two distinct kinds of Republicans when immigration is the subject matter: those who strongly advocate immigration enforcement and control mechanisms, and those who may or may not spout those things as talking points, but where big business is concerned, will do whatever is in their power to defeat any real attempt at weeding illegal aliens out of the workplace.
These big-business Republicans often join forces with otherwise-unlikely allies, such as the libertarian Cato Institute and FWD.us, the Mark Zuckerberg-created open borders group — both of which always agitate for large-scale amnesties and ever more cheap foreign "temporary" workers, and both of which aggressively fight both federal and state attempts to require universal E-Verify checks (see here and here).
As is often the case when campaigns are being run to derail such things as the Florida E-Verify initiative, one of the first victims is truth. Another is clarity. One of the more amusing statements opposing passage of mandatory E-Verify was this one, quoted in the Washington Examiner article mentioned above:
While we welcome the amendment filed in the House that removes the most egregious provisions from the senate proposal, ABIC and IMPAC Fund remain opposed to any version of mandatory E-Verify in Florida, especially while our state is in the midst of a public health emergency with the spread of coronavirus.
You gotta love it, lumping E-Verify together with coronavirus. It doesn't need to make any sense, just elevate the sense of public panic any way you can.
In their efforts, FWD.us went all out to plant op-eds condemning the initiative in print news outlets anywhere they could throughout the state, and they seem to have had a great deal of success with many of those outlets.
Within those op-eds and in concurrent articles on its website, FWD.us claimed that E-Verify would cost Florida thousands of jobs and billions of dollars, a claim quickly parroted by Democratic lawmakers in some parts of the state. For example, Rep. Al Jacquet, (D. Riviera Beach) was quoted as saying:
Every time I have spoken to my communities about putting in place more obstacles for folks to work and more obstacles for the economy, I always learn how that harms the economy here in the state of Florida.
Then there was this snippet in the same article:
South Miami Democratic Rep. Javier Fernandez (D. South Miami) told Byrd he was concerned green-card holders could have a tougher time getting jobs if employers are required to use the federal electronic system. "If a person is misidentified, how long does it take for them to gain employment again?" Fernandez asked.
It's important to understand the parameters of any Florida law governing E-Verify — or any other employment verification regimen, for that matter. Florida may mandate statewide use of E-Verify, but it cannot dictate any course of action that overrules, impedes, changes, or otherwise runs afoul of existing federal law, which is preeminent.
Federal law is clearly laid out in Sections 274A and 274B of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the INA already requires employers to conduct document verification for each employee to be sure that he or she is work-eligible; it is not as if Florida employers can choose to conduct verifications or not. The only difference permitted for employers is whether they do verifications via the paper-based system using federal Form I-9, or whether they opt instead to go for the E-Verify online system. Either way, the law provides strict penalties against employers that discriminate against individuals who are lawfully entitled to work (such as green card holders), so it's difficult to see how Fernandez's concerns are valid, since whether or not I-9s or E-Verify are chosen as a system by employers, the anti-discrimination provisions remain exactly the same.
It's also worth noting that whether employers use the paper I-9s or E-Verify, there are protocols in place to aid employers in reconciling problems related to the documents presented by their employees, so as to protect those employees' continued employment for the period needed to confirm whether or not they are indeed entitled to work. And the number of unresolved claims is minuscule. As FlaPol states in its previously cited article:
Of the 38.9 million workers run through the E-Verify system in 2019, 98.51 percent were automatically confirmed as "work authorized," according to a House staff analysis. Also, 0.23 percent of workers denied by the system were later found to have been authorized to work in the U.S.
As to the economy, and the alleged "loss" of jobs due to E-Verify: Who exactly is holding those jobs now? According to an estimate by the Center for Migration Studies, in 2017 there were over 466,000 aliens working illegally in the state, and nearly 30,000 more were actively seeking work. Those figures can only have gotten worse, given the rise in illegal immigration across U.S. borders in the intervening years (over a million last year alone), and the fact that Florida is a desired destination for many who enter illegally.
This "costing jobs" claim is often tied to the assertion that illegal aliens are just doing the jobs that Americans won't do. Hogwash. In the first place, if you consider carefully, you may often find that the critics making that claim are employers of illegal aliens zealously guarding their bottom line because they have gotten accustomed to using cheap, unauthorized labor.
And in the second place, it's just untrue. Every day I see Americans doing hard, humble jobs ranging from trash pickup to lawn maintenance. And it's a mistake to think that illegal aliens only occupy low-wage jobs. The next time you pass a massive highway maintenance project, ask yourself who is doing those "shovel-ready" jobs that are, often as not, being subsidized by taxpayers. Ask yourself the same question about who's pouring the concrete or doing the construction framing when you come across a new apartment development project, or who's doing the tear-down and re-shingling up on the roofs of all those homes across the state. Those are desirable jobs often going to aliens living and working illegally in the United States.
While critics at Cato and elsewhere have harped on the imperfections of E-Verify, that's a poor reason not to adopt, statewide, a system that's convenient and easy to use and makes it much harder for illegal aliens to obtain jobs, or for unscrupulous employers to either avoid doing any kind of verification for employment eligibility or to fake it by pretending not to know when they are presented with phony documents even a third-grader could spot.
No system is perfect — but as they say, the perfect should not be allowed to become the enemy of the good, and make no doubt that, overall, E-Verify is an unalloyed good in preserving jobs for those legally entitled to work.
Instead of permitting the status quo to fester, with its resultant loss of job opportunities and depressed wages for American and lawful alien workers (which are real outcomes when large numbers of illegal aliens are in the workplace) imagine being able to open up half a million jobs to Florida residents who have the right to work. That's what was — and remains — at stake.
It's a deep disappointment that Florida's lawmakers are choosing to put the selfish interests of big agriculture, big business, unscrupulous employers, and illegal aliens over the interests of Americans and lawful resident alien workers.