Business owners warn that CRC proposal would “destroy” Florida’s farming industry

Miami billionaire Mike Fernandez also took aim at House Speaker Richard Corcoran, saying he's "not shy to use fear and misinformation about immigrants."
A worker dumps a bucket of tomatoes into a trailer after they were harvested in the fields of DiMare Farms in Florida City, Florida. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images(2013)]
A worker dumps a bucket of tomatoes into a trailer after they were harvested in the fields of DiMare Farms in Florida City, Florida. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images(2013)]
Published Apr. 12, 2018|Updated Apr. 12, 2018

One of Florida's top farmers and a Republican mega-donor warned today that a Constitution Revision Commission proposal requiring businesses to check employees' immigration status would be devastating to Florida businesses.

"E-verify would destroy the farming industry," said Paul DiMare, the largest grower of fresh-market tomatoes in the country.

The CRC meets every 20 years to place items on the ballot to change the state's constitution. One of the proposals the 37-person body is considering this year would require businesses to search each person through a state-run system similar to the federal E-Verify program.

But on a conference call with the press, DiMare and others with the American Business Immigration Coalition and the Impac Fund warned that it could be devastating to businesses who rely on immigrant labor, scaring away legal and illegal immigrants alike.

Impac's supporters and board of directors include the actor Andy Garcia, CNN commentator Ana Navarro, Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning.

"This will totally destroy the immigrant community," DiMare said. "You will lose a tremendous amount of workforce."

Also on the call was Miami Republican billionaire Mike Fernandez, the chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners and Gov. Rick Scott's top campaign contributor in 2014. He said CRC commissioners haven't responded to their letters or phone calls pleading with them to reconsider Proposal 29.

"This is not an attack on what they're doing, but we are trying to stop an attack on the pro-business and the free enterprise system," he said.

The CRC's proposal narrowly passed a first step 19 to 13 last month, but it needs 22 votes for the commission to put it on the ballot in November. Five members were not around to vote on it.

Fernandez also took aim at Republicans who have made immigration an issue in their campaigns, saving special ire for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, whom Fernandez called a "bully" last year. Corcoran, who is considering a run for governor, ran controversial anti-immigration ads in January.

"You have the current speaker, Richard Corcoran, who is not shy to use fear and misinformation about immigrants to move an agenda that is very personal to him and based on misinformation and lack of facts," he said.

Corcoran, in a statement, dismissed the criticism.

"Facts are facts. We need to build the wall, end chain migration, and stop sanctuary cities," he said. "I am proud to fight for those policies alongside President Trump and the millions of Florida voters who feel the same way. I appreciate Mike's recognition that I am the only potential state-wide candidate who is actually standing up against illegal immigration."

Fernandez was quieter about Scott, with whom he's had a falling out. He told Politico Florida last year that Scott "is probably the smartest, hardest working man I've ever met, but to lead you must have empathy. He is emotionless. There is no passion, no sense of obligation, there is only a a sense of self-advancement."

On Thursday, Fernandez said he had not spoken to the governor, who is now running for Senate, about E-Verify.

"I have heard conflicting positions as to how he views E-Verify," Fernandez said. "So I cannot comment to it. I have no firsthand knowledge and have not spoken to him about it."

An American Business Immigration Coalition analysis states that requiring employers to use E-Verify could cause job losses or delays for more than 1 million legal immigrants. It could cost employers up to $4.7 billion to try to replace people who are erroneously flagged by the system, the report states.

Fernandez said businesses are in widespread opposition to the proposed amendment.

"I have personally been told that I'm so liberal because I oppose this, but alongside with me, you have every major business in the state of Florida, including the Chambers of Commerce, the Koch brothers, and even the Catholic Conference of Bishops," he said.