Senate Passes E-verify, Bill Makes Its Way to Governor’s Desk

Mar 13, 2020

The Florida Senate passed an amended version of SB 665, known as the E-verify bill, Thursday night.

The bill requires public employers like schools and government offices to use E-verify, a federal database from the Department of Homeland Security that verifies if a government document matches the person’s identity. Companies they contract will also be required to use E-verify.

However, private employers can use E-verify, or I-9. An I-9 form requires an employee to present government documents like a social security card, a passport or a driver’s license to prove their eligibility to work in the U.S. Employers are already federally required to use I-9.

The original Senate bill would have removed the I-9 option. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives stripped down that version. 

Proponents of E-verify say the 1-9 option is too lax. During a House debate, State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Clermont, said most Floridians want E-verify. 

“What this bill does is create optional E-verify,” he said. “I believe even a small step is a step we should support, if it's in the right direction. Getting E-verify in the Florida statutes is long overdue, we should’ve done it a decade ago.”

In addition, the bill allows for law enforcement agencies like the Attorney General's Office and state prosecutor to request verification of employment from private employers. And economic incentive applications will not be approved unless the applicant has E-verify.

State Rep. Cord Byrd, R-North Jacksonville Beach, a co-sponsor of the House bill, applauded its passage on the floor the day before it moved to the Senate.

“We will respect the rule of law, that while this might not be the legislation that some of you intended, or wanted, it is a policy that I think will work in our state and send a message to those who are breaking our laws that you will no longer be allowed to do so in Florida,” Byrd said. 

The E-verify mandate faced stiff opposition from the business community. Industries like agriculture, tourism and construction rely on undocumented workers.

Paul DiMare, President of Dimare Fresh, said E-verify isn’t economically sound. “You'll destroy the whole state.”

DiMare said E-verify would finish his company.

“It'll knock them all out.The numbers probably won't match. I mean, that's E-verify, E-verify is a matching of social security number to the person,” he said. 

He estimates that at least 90 percent of his workers are probably undocumented. 

State Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indian Harbour, sponsored similar bills in the past. He said the House bill protects the identity of the country.

“It’s not strong enough. But at least we’re moving in a direction because it protects citizenship. It protects those citizens that are here legally that need to work and raise a family and have a livelihood. ”

Altman argued that employers benefit from a lack of E-verify because they can pay low wages to undocumented workers.

DiMare said he pays his workers $15 to $20 an hour for picking crops. But U.S citizens don’t want to do those types of jobs. 

“They're not being paid low wages. They're the only people who want to do the job,” he said. “I've been here since '64. I've never had an American working in my fields in all the years I've been here.”

DiMare added that even without E-verify, his company is already facing a 30 to 40 percentage shortage of workers. 

Kathy Bird, Executive Director of the Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund, said E-verify won’t curb the undocumented population. 

“For people to help take care of our loved ones when they're sick, or when they're elderly, to be able to build our homes, to be able to pick our crops… This is work that is valuable and important for our state. And these are families that are part of our community, and we can't ignore that,” she said. 

The bill next heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made E-verify one of his key goals. 

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A picture taken from the DiMare Fresh plant in Florida City.
Credit Maria Esquinca

DiMare said E-verify would finish his company.

“It'll knock them all out.The numbers probably won't match. I mean, that's E-verify, E-verify is a matching of social security number to the person,” he said. 

He estimates that at least 90 percent of his workers are probably undocumented. 

State Rep. Thad Altman, R-Indian Harbour, sponsored similar bills in the past. He said the House bill protects the identity of the country.

“It’s not strong enough. But at least we’re moving in a direction. because it protects citizenship. It protects those citizens that are here legally that need to work and raise a family and have a livelihood. ”

Altman argued that employers benefit from a lack of E-verify because they can pay low wages to undocumented workers.

DiMare said he pays his workers $15 to $20 an hour for picking crops. But U.S citizens don’t want to do those types of jobs. 

“They're not being paid low wages. They're the only people who want to do the job,” he said. “I've been here since '64. I've never had an American working in my fields in all the years I've been here.”

DiMare added that even without E-verify, his company is already facing a 30 to 40 percentage shortage of workers. 

Kathy Bird, Executive Director of the Immigration Partnership & Coalition Fund, said E-verify won’t curb the undocumented population. 

“For people to help take care of our loved ones when they're sick, or when they're elderly, to be able to build our homes, to be able to pick our crops… This is work that is valuable and important for our state. And these are families that are part of our community, and we can't ignore that,” she said. 

The bill next heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who made E-verify one of his key goals. 

WLRN depends on donors to remain South Florida’s leading nonprofit, most trusted source of news and information. Support our mission by giving monthly as a sustaining member of Friends of WLRN or make a one-time donation of your choice. Thank you. Click here to give.