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Last week, the Orlando Sentinel revealed that Florida’s much-touted crackdown on illegal employment has been a total bust.
Nearly six months after it was enacted, not a single violation or complaint has been lodged with the agency in charge. And the agency hasn’t taken any enforcement action.
Here’s why: The entire “crackdown” was a con job.
Republican lawmakers didn’t crack down on squat. They claimed they were passing a law that required employers to use the federal government’s E-Verify database to confirm all their hires were legal. But they exempted every business in the state without a government contract — including the entire agriculture industry, which admits most of its workers are undocumented.
It was like claiming to crack down on burglars — while offering a pass to anyone with a burglary conviction.
They just hoped you were too stupid to notice.
The far-right website Breitbart hailed Gov. Ron DeSantis as a hero for signing E-Verify into law. Breitbart was especially excited that the governor put signs alongside Florida highways that said: “FLORIDA uses E-Verify.”
Yes, signs. So Breitbart rushed out a blockbuster scoop: “Exclusive — Gov. Ron DeSantis Hangs ‘Florida Uses E-Verify’ Signs on All Highways into Sunshine State.”
DeSantis can hang all the signs he wants. It doesn’t change the fact that this law is a steaming pile of theatrical impotence.
It mandates that state and local governments must use E-Verify before hiring anyone (as if Florida’s estimated 775,000 undocumented employees are working in the state’s park system or highway patrol). But it tells private employers without government contracts that they can either use E-Verify “or” just let employees fill out their own forms vouching for their immigration status. Which one do you think companies exploiting illegal labor would choose?
And I think that’s a shame. Because I’ve supported mandatory E-Verify for more than a decade.
I even naively expressed support for DeSantis’ vow to mandate E-Verify after he promised to do so during a campaign debate. I mistakenly thought he might follow through.
On immigration, Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis promised E-Verify. I hope he delivers.
The problem is that Republican politicians like to scream about immigrants — but have no interest in cracking down on the employers who exploit them and profit off illegal labor.
Keep in mind: The agriculture industry admits most of its hires are undocumented. “At least 50-70 percent of farm laborers in the country today are unauthorized,” the American Farm Bureau says on its website. “Few U.S. workers are willing to fill available farm labor jobs.”
It’s the dirty little secret of America’s economy. It runs on the backs of people who pick tomatoes for 2 pennies a pound and who then get berated by the consumers who stuff their faces with the cheap fruits of their labor.
That’s what Florida lawmakers have done for a decade straight.
He never did. Over eight years in office.
Why? Because as soon as he got elected, agriculture companies showered Scott with campaign cash — more than $400,000 from sugar, citrus and others. Scott quickly reversed course, saying it would be “foolish” to implement the plan … the plan he’d promised to enact.
And DeSantis is now sending Florida law enforcement to the Mexican border, allegedly to deal with immigration problems there, while he lets Florida law enforcement ignore violations in the state he actually runs. You’ve got to be some kind of a gullible rube to buy this shtick.
Businesses like using cheap and illegal labor. And Florida Republicans keep letting them, despite promising to crack down
So that’s two GOP governors, two vows for mandatory E-Verify and zero follow-through. We’ve seen a solid decade of Republican lawmakers refusing to pass a law they all allegedly want.
E-Verify isn’t without its critics.
Some Democrats say it leads to further villification of immigrants, both documented and otherwise. Some business groups argue it’s an added task or cost for business owners. And some argue the E-Verify database is imperfect. How imperfect? The CATO institute found E-Verify yielded erroneous denials 0.15% of the time. Rounding to the nearest whole number, that’s an error rate of 0%.
My argument for mandatory E-Verify is basically this: Companies should follow laws in America. That’s not complicated.
I also believe worker exploitation thrives in the shadows when employers know they can abuse workers who have no recourse under normal channels. (Don’t like that we stiffed you on wages, worked you longer than labor laws allow or that you suffered physical abuse in the fields? Well, if you complain, we’ll get you deported.)
If we forced companies to make legal hires, it would also force us to confront uncomfortable realities about labor in this country — and look for real solutions instead of bogus publicity schemes.
Maybe demanding legal hires would lead to higher wages and prices for produce. Maybe it would force lawmakers to create more pathways to citizenship or legal work status, the way polls suggest most Americans want. I’m guessing it would be a bit of both.
Ideally, the reform would happen at the national level. Right now, it’s state-by-state with fewer than a dozen states demanding E-Verify for all employers.
But Florida’s current system isn’t just illegal; it’s immoral.
Companies profit off illegal labor. Consumers benefit from artificially depressed produce prices. And politicians just scream about the people being exploited.
Exploit. Profit. Pander. Scream. That’s the Florida way … which admittedly wouldn’t look quite as catchy on a highway sign.