Check out how the immigration debate is going here
After a couple of hours of debate, state senators agreed to make SB 2040 tougher under an amendment put forth by Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales. But the full Senate has not yet taken a vote on the measure, rolling it instead into a third reading that could take place on Wednesday -- or whenever Senate leaders feel they have enough votes to pass the bill. See our live-blogging of the earlier debate below:
The Florida Senate has begun discussing SB 2040, its immigration crackdown bill. We'll be providing updates in this blog post for the duration of the debate, so refresh often.
- The discussion begins with Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, acknowledging that "we're about to take up a very emotional bill." "We want to send a message that this is still the most incredible place to live, not only in America, but in the world," he said. "We're trying to thread a very difficult needle today on the issue...I didn't know who difficult this issue was until we really got into it." He also thanked Sen. Anitere Flores, the Miami Republican who initially shepherded the bill in the chamber.
- Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, present their amendments to the bill. The questions from their colleagues center on the federal government's e-Verify system -- particularly the government's guidelines that employers only use e-Verify after offering someone employment. Alexander, a farmer and citrus grower who uses the system, says it and other immigration verification tools are "fundamentally flawed." "The e-Verify system is far from perfect," he said. "It has tremendous costs to employers." Referring to undocumented immigrants, Alexander added: "By the grace of God, everyone of us might be in the same place."
- The nanny question comes up, from Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate: Would people who hire undocumented nannies or gardeners or handymen be subject to fines? Says Thrasher: Any person who employs someone else qualifies as an employer. Responds Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles Beach: "That's pretty bizarre."
- Alexander speaks passionately against Thrasher's amendment: "This is not a complete requirement for e-Verify, but it's real close," he said, to senators following his every word. Alexander told his colleagues about not finding enough workers to pick his blueberry crop. If everybody used e-Verify, he said, "I truly don't think you could pick the crops in the fields." The vote will be politically difficult -- "I've got 15 tea-party folks that want to shoot at me to try to find some chink in my armor," Alexander said. Two years ago, Alexander added, his company brough in 200 guest workers from Mexico: "Some of the hardest working people you've ever wanted to know," he said. And later: "This country was based on immigration...I just resent it. I resent that I have to be asked to choose between hardworking people and somebody's uninformed knowledge...The issues are not here. The issues are in Washington and this isn't the answer."
- Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, also opposes Thrasher's amendment, saying it makes it more expensive for small businesses to create jobs. "We certainly, on the 57th day of session, shouldn't be doing things to make it harder for people to add jobs," he said.
- Margolis, fighting back tears and apparently speaking against the amendments and the bill, said she grew up in Miami-Dade County with her grandparents without speaking English. "We all worked, and we made it. We made it big," she said. "What in the world is wrong? What is happening with this state? I couldn't vote for this in a million years."
- Ring says he fears immigration will become a campaign issue, when opponents file complaints against each other alleging other candidates have hired undocumented immigrants. "This will become a massive election issue," he said. "If this amendment passes it will be the wild west in Florida."
- In closing, Thrasher refers to Osama bin Laden: "I would remind everybody in here that 10 of the 19 terrorists that attacked our country, that attacked our country, that were directed by Osama bin Laden...lived in Florida," he said. "I wish we had had an e-Verify system [before 9/11]."
- Thrasher's amendment fails, 16-23.
- Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, proposes an amendment that would require a person's immigration status to be checked after a conviction, not merely an arrest. Sachs said otherwise, criminals could be deported before answering for their crimes in the United States: "So what are you going to say to the victim: 'I'm so sorry. We're not going to spend the money,'" Sachs said. "'Sorry, victim, you will never be able to face your accuser in a court of law." The amendment fails.
- Alexander's strike-all amendment passes. The bill is rolled to a third reading.