After Arizona passed some of the harshest anti-immigration laws in the country, states such as Florida began considering similar measures.
Arizona state law requires any law enforcement officer who suspects that someone is “an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States … to determine the immigration status of the person.”
A recent Florida Senate bill, SB 136, contained similar language, yet was withdrawn from further consideration in March. However, another controversial anti-immigration bill, SB 2040, was debated Monday in Tallahassee.
Though the main portion of this bill is directed toward having employers use an E-Verify program through the federal government to help identify unauthorized immigrants, it goes beyond employers’ hiring processes. The bill also asks that the state Departments of Corrections and Law Enforcement cooperate and be trained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enforce immigration laws.
The bill rightfully proposes that employers be held accountable for knowingly employing illegal immigrants and creates a system that helps them determine the legal status of potential employees.
However, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the E-Verify system has been found to work very inconsistently.
Employing illegal immigrants is a serious issue, as unemployment rates in Florida are among the highest in the country, according to U.S. Census figures. But at the same time, it is not necessarily the illegal immigrants’ fault if they are hired for a job. In some cases, illegal immigrants are sought by employers to reduce the cost of hiring legally documented workers.
What is problematic with this bill is not what is being proposed for employers, but the power being given to local agencies to enforce federal immigration laws. Law enforcement agencies arrest individuals under the suspicion that they are breaking the law. Yet if reasonable suspicion can be raised against their immigration status, it may lead to discrimination of immigrants of all races and ethnicities.
Laws such as these can lead to unfair racial profiling by law enforcement officers at any time. The greatest part of being an American is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, with unfair immigration laws, American rights go only as far as citizens can portray themselves to look “legal.”
While efforts at the state and federal level are addressing issues on immigration, legislators must be aware of laws that may enable discrimination and racial profiling. Florida is an ethnically and culturally diverse state, and citizens cannot allow racial disparities to grow through enforcing laws like this.
Jason Funes is a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and philosophy.