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Statewide grand jury calls for ways to curb illegal immigration in Florida

Two farm labor workers tend to crops.
Alie Skowronski
/
Miami Herald
Two farm labor workers tend to crops on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, in Homestead, Fla.Two farm labor workers tend to crops on Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, in Homestead, Fla.

A statewide grand jury has issued a 146-page report that calls for taking a series of steps to try to curb illegal immigration, saying “it will be up to Florida and other states to help themselves, at least in the short term,” as problems go unsolved at the federal level.

The report, posted Monday on the Florida Supreme Court website, includes calling for further attempts to crack down on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants, probing non-government organizations and collecting fees on transfers of money from Florida to other countries.

“We learned that, if anything, many Floridians are (just as we were before undertaking this inquiry) almost dangerously naive and unaware of the true magnitude and malevolence of the illegal immigration industry,’ the grand jury said in the report. “What we discovered has been at varying times sobering, upsetting, depressing, and the cause of significant outrage.”

The grand jury, impaneled last year at the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, also issued four earlier reports, or presentments. But the report made public Monday delves into a wide range of issues, such as efforts to prevent employers from hiring undocumented immigrants.

DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature this spring approved a bill (SB 1718) that included requiring businesses with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of workers. The grand jury called for eliminating the exemption for businesses with fewer than 25 employees, saying it “provides too many incentives for the unscrupulous to ‘game the system.’"

READ MORE: How the state's new immigration crackdown will affect South Florida

The report also called for addressing issues related to licensing general contractors. It pointed to loopholes in which contractors “simply pass all liability for verification of employee eligibility to work to a third party, usually a subcontractor or labor staffing agency — there are ‘subs of subs of subs’ on some projects.”

“Accordingly, we recommend that our lawmakers assess the feasibility of either requiring general contractors to ultimately be fully and directly legally responsible for ensuring their subcontractors hire only legal workers, or requiring any employee staffing agency or any person or business which provides employees to work for another, to register with the state's Department of Labor and be bound by Florida's new e-verify requirements,” the report said, apparently referring to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. The state does not have a Department of Labor.

The grand jury also sharply criticized some non-government agencies, or NGOs, that receive federal money to help undocumented immigrants. The report alleged that “several NGOs actively obstructed our investigation, refusing to provide subpoenaed information and refusing to answer some direct questions.”

It recommended the formation of another statewide grand jury to focus on non-government organizations, though it did not identify organizations in the allegations.

“These NGOs do not truly or exclusively operate as humanitarians,” the report said. “They do not spend federal grant money to convince alien populations not to risk a life-threatening odyssey. Rather, they magnify the magnetic illusion of economic prosperity at the end of a migratory trek.”

The report also took aim at what are known as “remittances,” or money sent by immigrants in the U.S. to other countries. It said remittances can be linked to criminal activities, such as money laundering and human smuggling.

Borrowing an idea from Oklahoma, the grand jury recommended that Florida collect a fee on transactions involving money leaving the state and going to other countries.

“Even discounting the opportunity to identify criminal activity and cut into cartel profits this represents, there are ample reasons to support such a fee,” the report said. “To begin with, this is a staggering amount of money which is leaving not just the economy of our state, but that of our entire country. It will never be taxed, spent, or invested into our state and its people. It is gone. Florida should recoup at least some portion of it, especially because these types of transfers are ‘ripe for criminal exploitation.’ These funds may be from legitimate income, but may also be either earned illegally or the product of criminal activity.”

DeSantis last year asked the Supreme Court to approve impaneling the grand jury as he and Attorney General Ashley Moody focused heavily on immigration issues. Moody, among other things, has filed or signed onto lawsuits against the Biden administration challenging the federal border policies. Criticizing federal policies also has been part of DeSantis’ presidential campaign.

The grand jury was impaneled in the 10th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties. The grand jury had been scheduled to end Nov. 1, but the Supreme Court in August approved extending its term to April 2024.

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