Despite months of rhetoric, Florida's Republican-led Legislature looks unlikely to pass so-called immigration reform before adjourning late today. That is the right outcome to an issue that never belonged in Tallahassee or other state capitals. The proposed solution proved too burdensome, particularly as illegal immigration is declining dramatically in Florida. Several Republican senators joined with Democrats to pass a watered-down plan this week, but the best course would be to walk away and demand action from Congress.
Republican leaders in the state House and Senate had hoped to pass a bill that would require every employer to use the too often inaccurate and cumbersome E-Verify system, which is supposed to check the immigration status of workers. They also wanted police to be more active in checking individuals' immigration status, though on a more limited basis than under the constitutionally suspect Arizona law. The turning point came this week when powerful Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who was stuck with shepherding the Senate plan, ultimately denounced it in a stirring floor speech as unworkable and wholly unfair to hardworking, diligent immigrants. He succeeded in stripping the E-Verify requirements on nongovernment employers from the bill but still didn't back it.
A blueberry farmer and grandson of the late citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Alexander spoke passionately about how the broken immigration system — including his own use of the flawed E-Verify system — had left him 100 workers short for this year's crops even in a state with 11 percent unemployment. Alexander decried the uninformed special interests using illegal immigration as a blunt political weapon.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates there are 375,000 fewer illegal immigrants in Florida than just four years ago — the biggest decline in the country. That can be attributed to both the struggling economy — construction jobs, among others, have dried up — as well as tougher federal efforts. And the Los Angeles Times reported that there were 448,000 apprehensions in 2010 of illegal immigrants making the often dangerous crossing from Mexico, down from 1.6 million apprehensions in 2000.
The fact is that immigration and border security policies begun under President George W. Bush and enhanced by the Obama administration are working, albeit aided by a slowly recovering economy. More needs to be done. But the best solution can only come from Congress, not the Florida Legislature.