MIAMI - If the tea party-backed Republican caucus in the state legislature gets its way on any of several anti-immigration bills, opponents say social, civil and even economic life here and around the state could be severely disrupted.
Miami, with 59 percent of its residents born abroad, is the most international city in the world. But it's a local Republican, State Senator Anitere Flores, who chairs the Senate's Judiciary Committee, currently before which is the "Arizona Light" SPB 7066 bill, officially called "Unauthorized aliens."
The "Light" moniker comes as the bill's proponents, due to public backlash over Republican Gov. Rick Scott's vow to enact Arizona-style legislation, tried to make the bill more palatable. But SPB 7066 would, in the words of Subhash Kateel, state organizer of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, "turn Florida into a 'show me your papers state.'"
Howard Simon, executive director of the Florida American Civil Liberties Union, speaking at a press conference organized by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, explained the "guts" of the "complicated, 11-page bill."
There are three main provisions: It requires every employer in Florida to participate in the federal e-verify database. A second part of the bill, in Simon's words, "would turn county sheriffs into law enforcement agents enforcing federal immigration laws."
The bill also "codifies and requires" participation in the Secure Communities Program, "in which fingerprints of everybody who is picked up in Florida would then be circulated throughout the country through federal agencies."
In addition to SPB 7066 are six other Senate bills and three Assembly bills, all of which, their opponents say, would lead to racial profiling. Further, some are far more draconian than the current bill.
Susana Barciela of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center explained that the provision in the measure to force local police to act as immigration agents would "divert public local resources - local tax dollars - to pay for federal immigration enforcement."
Barciela and others argued that, by forcing police to check the papers of anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant, the proposed law would "drive a wedge" between cops and immigrant communities. Instead of cooperating with police to provide crime-solving evidence, people might, for fear of being deported, instead hide from them.
"This is a disaster," said Reina Fernandez of Sisterhood of Survivors, referring to the laws' potential effects for immigrant women suffering domestic abuse. "A lot of victims won't call police for fear of being arrested," she said. "They end up going to jail, not the perpetrator. Which women will call the police now?"
Consequently, Florida taxpayers would pay more to fund the mandates of a law that would make women less safe and neighborhoods more dangerous, opponents note.
They also argue that all of these bills will lead by definition to racial profiling.
Archdeacon Jean Fritz Bazin of Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida asked, "I am a Haitian, I speak with an accent. I am an American citizen. I have to wonder if I should carry my passport with me at all times to prove to a police officer that I am here legally?"
Marleine Bastien, director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami said, "Haitians will be specifically targeted, and their lives will be in danger," if these bills become law.
Simon of the ACLU asked why the tea party-oriented state legislature suddenly put its faith in "an error-prone federal database?" E-Verify, which all employers would have to run potential employees' information through, has caused tens of thousands of legal residents or citizens to be denied jobs due to erroneous information.
He went on to point out that "current and former chiefs of police in our own community here in Miami" oppose forcing local law enforcement officials to act as ICE officials.
Florida's Chamber of Commerce also weighed in, warning against much of the immigration legislation, saying it would cause the state, which has an economy based on tourism and agriculture, to lose millions of dollars.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 23.3 percent of Florida's workers are immigrants, and 8.2 percent of the workforce is undocumented. The Perryman Group reports that the removal of all undocumented workers would amount to a kind of anti-stimulus. There would be a loss of $43 billion in economic activity and $19.5 billion in gross state product. 262,436 would be lost.
Why, then, is the bill being pushed?
"Today may be the official opening of next year's elections, said Simon. "This is the search for which community we can demonize, which community we can tell the rest of the United States to be fearful of."
Photo: Archdeacon Bazin speaks, as Barciela and Bastien watch. Dan Margolis/PW