TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A wide-ranging coalition that includes a major Republican donor, cruise-line officials, agricultural interests and former pro basketball players is seeking to halt a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Florida businesses to verify the immigration status of new employees.
The state Constitution Revision Commission is expected next week to consider putting the proposal on the November ballot.
But members of the Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund, or IMPAC Fund, called Thursday for blocking the proposal, which would require Florida businesses to use a system similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Employment Authorization Program, known as E-Verify, to determine immigration-related eligibility of employees.
Fund Chairman Mike Fernandez, a major Republican donor and founder of MBF Healthcare Partners, called the proposal “highly flawed” and “anti-immigration legislation.”
“We are hopeful that with the general public’s involvement and the business community’s involvement, that they (members of the commission) understand this is not an attack on what they’re doing,” said Fernandez, who was born in Cuba. “But we’re trying to stop an attack on the pro-business and free enterprises.”
The conference call was tied to the release of a report in which leaders of the fund and the American Business Immigration Coalition contended that enacting a verification system would result in short-term job shortages in the agriculture and travel industries and cost Florida employers $4.7 billion. Among other things, the report said the requirement would not stop unauthorized employment.
Paul DiMare, CEO of DiMare Distribution, known as “Mr. Tomato," said the state already has a 35 to 40 percent shortage of farm labor across South Florida and that implementing the verification program would drive migrant workers to other states.
“Let the government sit down and fix the immigration problem so that we all have labor,” DiMare said. “Don’t be chasing what we have now, when we don’t even have enough with the illegals and legals, we don’t have enough labor in the country.”
In part, critics of the proposal contend the new system would lead to errors that would affect businesses and workers. The fund’s report is based on an error rates up to 12 percent reported by employers that audit their own E-Verify data.
The Department of Homeland Security, which includes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, put the accuracy rate of its system at 98.91 percent.
Among those opposed to the proposed constitutional amendment are state Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah; Carnival Cruise Lines Chairman Mickey Arison; Miami Mayor Francis Suarez; former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz; Los Angeles Lakers President Earvin “Magic” Johnson; Univision Vice President Maria Lopez Alvarez; Mourning Family Foundation founder and former NBA player Alonzo Mourning; and former state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.
In a letter by the fund to members of the Constitution Revision Commission, Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson said “the chamber believes in a smarter federal immigration strategy and opposes putting this type of uncompetitive policy in the Florida Constitution.”
Commissioner Rich Newsome of Orlando, who has pushed the use of the system, initially proposed Florida businesses use the federal E-Verify system to determine the eligibility of new employees. But the proposal was changed to call for the state to establish a verification process.
In committee, Newsome argued that the measure has widespread support from the public, but powerful special interests tied to agriculture and construction have made it “impossible” to advance the issue in the Legislature.
E-Verify has been an issue in Florida for more than a decade, drawing heightened attention as jobs grew scarce during the recession that started in 2007.
Seeking to crack down on the use of undocumented workers, Gov. Rick Scott pushed as part of his 2010 campaign platform the need to require all businesses in Florida to use E-Verify.
After pushback from business groups supporting the agriculture industry, Scott eventually signed an executive order shortly after taking office in 2011 that required state agencies under his direction to verify the employment eligibility of all new employees by using E-Verify.
The commission, which will meet Monday in Tallahassee, is looking at 12 ballot proposals that incorporate 24 potential changes to the Florida Constitution. All of the proposals were initially endorsed by the commission before undergoing some rewriting last week.
Proposals require 22 votes from the commission to be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The immigration verification proposal was tentatively advanced by the commission in a 19-13 vote, with five members not voting, on March 20.