Without fanfare, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law an expansion of Florida's use of a federal database to verify an employee's immigration status. But it's far from the sweeping change he sought: Influential industries lobbied to make it optional for private employers.
In a presidential election year, the issue could loom as a point of contention amid clashing ideologies over immigration. Supporters see E-Verify as a tool to keep people who are in the United States illegally from getting jobs.
Some opponents argue that the requirements could prove burdensome, while others point out that mistakes in the database can prevent eligible workers from getting jobs.
“E-verify is not only cruel to immigrant families who are just trying to live in peace and thrive but also is a deeply flawed system that discriminates against people of color,” said Thomas Kennedy, the Florida statewide coordinator of United We Dream, a national youth-led group advocating for immigrants.
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The Republican governor asked lawmakers to require all employers in Florida — public and private — to use the E-Verify system, an online database operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that can confirm a person's eligibility to work in the United States.
However, lawmakers in his own party balked at requiring private companies to use it. Instead, only public employers — including state agencies, local governments and firms that contract with them — will be required to use the E-Verify system.
Private employers have the option of using E-Verify but can use alternative state-approved methods, including a federal form many companies already use to confirm employment eligibility.
The legislation was among 19 bills he signed into law Tuesday — including a requirement that pregnant girls get parental consent for abortions, which was among the most controversial and high-profile pieces of legislation on his agenda.
As with E-Verify, DeSantis did not hold a signing ceremony for that bill or even mention its signing during a press conference — despite being among the key items on his legislative agenda.
The E-Verify legislation was one of the few dramas during this year's session. Competing proposals — including one favored by the governor — bounced through committees and underwent a multitude of revisions before both chambers sent the watered-down approach DeSantis signed to his desk on the final day.
DeSantis called on lawmakers to pass an e-Verify bill during his State of the State address that opened the annual 60-day legislative session in January.
“Lower-income workers also shouldn’t have their wages depressed by cheap foreign labor," he said then. "Assuring a legal workforce through E-verify will be good for the rule of law, protect taxpayers, and place an upward pressure on the wages of Floridians who work in blue collar jobs.”
But influential industries, such as tourism, agriculture and construction, were wary of the governor's proposal and their influence was readily apparent on the final version of the legislation. The House stripped language that would have allowed random audits to ensure compliance.
Critics, meanwhile, said E-Verify is flawed and riddled with inaccurate information.
DeSantis also vetoed two bills on Tuesday, including one that could have allowed the preemption of local growth management plans and another measure that would have boosted the pay of some judges.