Arizona-style immigration bills filed for possible consideration next week
TAMPA - The first bills filed for next week's special legislative session have nothing to do with what Gov. Charlie Crist called lawmakers together to discuss. Crist wants the Legislature to approve a constitutional amendment to ban offshore oil drilling, but state Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Tampa Republican running for the state Senate, has filed three bills targeting illegal immigrants in Florida. The bills would: • Enable law enforcement officials to check on a person's residency status during routine stops or arrests, using the federal E-Verify program created for employers to check on a worker's status.• Require proof of legal residency or citizenship for receipt of certain public benefits. The prohibition would not include emergency or crisis care or immunizations for communicable diseases. • Prohibit a person from working for any state agency if he can't prove he is a legal resident or citizen. The proposal doesn't include any measures to penalize private employers who hire illegal immigrants. Joining Ambler in his proposal is state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, though she has yet to file her bills. Senate rules prevent her from proposing anything beyond the issue Crist called lawmakers together to consider in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Unless Crist expands his call, two-thirds of the House and Senate members will have to approve addressing outside issues.Dockery and Ambler sent a letter to Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul today asking them to back expanding the call to include the immigration bills. It said the bills would "protect the economic security and public safety of our great state. With communities all over the state threatened by criminals who violate our immigration laws, and a federal bureaucracy unable to fulfill its most basic responsibility, the Florida Legislature has an opportunity to make a difference now." Both Dockery and Ambler describe the bills as "common sense" Arizona-style reform. One key difference is giving law enforcement officers access to E-Verify, a federal, Internet-based system that allows someone to instantly check on whether someone is legally in the United States. It was created for employers, but it should also be made available to public officials, Ambler said. Ambler said that about 900,000 illegal immigrants live in Florida. Only Texas and California have more. Both he and Dockery emphasized the high cost of the 5,667 illegal immigrants now in Florida's prisons. But their proposals would do nothing to change that, because deportation is a federal responsibility. They might even increase the number of jailed immigrants as law enforcement officers arrest those who can't prove they are legal.
Reporter Lindsay Peterson can be reached at (813) 259-7834.