Two state lawmakers call for AZ-style immigration law listen07/14/10 Kate Bradshaw
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An Arizona-style immigration law is one step closer to getting onto the books in Florida. Today two state legislators called on their colleagues to take up three bills related to undocumented immigrants. State Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Tampa Republican who is sponsoring the House bills, said there is overwhelming support for a crackdown on so-called illegal immigration.
"A special session is a very appropriate venue for us to bring an issue forward that is at the forefront of voter's minds. And we both feel very strongly about the importance of protecting our borders and our security."
Ambler said there are far more undocumented immigrants in the Sunshine State than Arizona.
"Florida has over twice the number of 'illegal immigrants,' with Arizona being over 400,000. We're approaching over 900,000 in Florida."
Sen. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican, is sponsoring the billsâ€™ Senate versions. In May Dockery ended her gubernatorial bid. She says her short time on the campaign trail gave her a good glimpse of public concern over the strain undocumented workers allegedly cause on government resources.
"The one question that uniformly was asked of me no matter what region of state I was in was, do you support immigration reform? And specifically, do you support and Arizona type immigration reform?"
Ambler says the first of the three bills is like the controversial law. SB 1070, recently passed in Arizona. That law allows local law enforcement to check the immigration status of those they stop or detain as long as they have reasonable suspicion of illegal status.
"When they're making a lawful stop for lawful reason, whether that be a traffic infraction or some criminal offense, that now law enforcement will be authorized to inquire as to the legal status of the person they're stopping, including verifying their citizenship."
He says that such a law would not lend itself to racial profiling.
"It is not a bill that is going to convert our police officers and INS [sic] agents. They're not going in on raids and factories, or out into the groves."
The other two bills require verification of immigration status to be eligible for public benefits and to get a job with the state and provide for the use of the Homeland Security-operated database E-Verify in the checking process. Ambler, who faces conservative Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman in a Republican primary for a state senate seat next month said the matter is timely.
"In my consensus they're saying, well listen I know your not in session but your still getting a paycheck. As a state representative you serve on an important committee that oversees public safety and domestic security. You have an opportunity to get your job done as a state rep. We don't care what job your running for in the future but until November, your state representative and we expect you to do your job."
The passage of the Arizona bill sparked a boycott of that stateâ€™s products, services and events. Ambler said heâ€™s not concerned about that happening in Florida.
"I think as long as it's reported accurately and fairly, about the fact that this is a first step measured common sense response to a problem that the public is demanding some immediate action on, that they're shouldn't be an over reaction with claims of profiling all these things that people are fearful of. These bills are not going to cause any of those kind of problems. Like Sen. Dockery said, we applaud those that have come to this country legally. Those that have, and played by the rules should have no problems from these three laws."
Lucas Benitez, a staff member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an activist group consisting largely of Latino immigrants says that the Arizona law canâ€™t exist without racial profiling and that the problem lies within the naturalization process.
"The problem with racial profiling is that it would be impossible to implement the proposed law as we are seeing already in Arizona. We believe that the problem of undocumented immigration today was created by the total lack of any rational legalization program, sufficient to meet the country's demands for new immigrants. And I believe that the solution really lies in creating a program that could legalize immigrants who have been here for such a long time, working hard and contributing to society without the opportunity for residency."
He added that itâ€™s too early to tell what kind of action the coalition will take if the laws pass. The legislation needs approval of the governor or by two-thirds of the legislature before state lawmakers can take it up at next weekâ€™s special session. In St. Petersburg yesterday, Gov. Charlie Crist scoffed at the notion of the bills making it onto the agenda.
"I doubt it."
[Reporter:] "Some people were talking about it."
"I'm sure they are. I'm sure they have the public and primaries."
Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill McCollum announced today that Florida has filed an amicus brief supporting Arizona, which is the defendant in a lawsuit brought against it by the Obama Administration over its controversial immigration law.