Bookmark and Share

Florida Senator introduces Arizona-style bill on immigration

January 17, 2011

Renata Rodrigues Bozzetto, a field organizer for Voto Latino, makes a speech at a town hall meeting in Palm City, Fla., regarding a proposed Arizona-style state immigration bill.

Story by Ellen Jean Hirst, photo by Allison Mullally/NYTSJI

Story reprinted with permission from The New York Times.

Florida lawmakers have started tackling the controversial issue of how to curb illegal immigration and are looking to Arizona’s restrictive law as a model.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has introduced a bill in the Florida Senate that would require law enforcement officers to request immigration documents from people they suspect are in the country illegally.

More than 700,000 illegal immigrants live in Florida, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research group.

Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, plans to introduce a similar measure in the state House of Representatives after he hears from Florida’s residents at a series of town hall meetings he is hosting.

The legislative body held the first of three briefings for lawmakers on immigration issues Monday, and speakers presented their arguments for or against the law. Under the Arizona law, legal immigrants must carry their documents at all times.

Bennett said illegal immigrants who are convicted of certain crimes should be deported before they are sent to prison or to a federal facility.

“We don’t want to have a bill that deports very good people,” Bennett said in a phone interview. “We want to get rid of criminals, the ones who are involved in crime, drugs and violent crime. Those are the ones I want to get out of the country first.”

The state would save about $17 million if it were able to deport more than 500 illegal immigrants who are currently in Florida prisons, according to the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.

In the absence of federal immigration changes, Bennett said, the state will have to act for itself on the issue. He said he does not support the “Arizona-style immigration” laws, but he introduced the bill “to open up a dialogue” in the state Legislature.

“Hopefully we’re sending a message to the federal government,” he said.

Supporters of tougher laws say they are also in favor of the state cracking down on the hiring of illegal immigrants.

Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi both support the adoption of an Arizona-style law in Florida.

Scott has already taken the first steps toward tightening immigration rules. He pushed through an executive order requiring state agencies to use a federal database to check workers’ immigration status.

The issue of illegal immigration provoked strong arguments on both sides during a town hall meeting Snyder held in Palm City on Friday, where a packed house spilled into the hallway and out the door. Many speakers expressed frustration that the state was forced to bear the responsibility of dealing with illegal immigration – something they consider a federal issue.

Opponents argue that tougher state immigration laws would encourage racial profiling, but Bennett said a clause was included in his bill that prohibits law enforcement officers from using race as a determining factor to check a person’s legal status.

But Maria Zequeira, an immigrant advocate and a lawyer, said at the town hall meeting that “a racially neutral implementation of a bill like this isn’t possible.”

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, the chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, said lawmakers should be cautious when reaching a decision because immigration reform is such an incendiary issue.

Bookmark and Share

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.