Scott Maxwell: Florida immigration crackdown. Will it target employers? Or just employees?

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In one month, Florida’s controversial new immigration law is slated to take effect, and it will be interesting to see who gets targeted.

Will it be the undocumented workers who often do the back-breaking work in Florida fields, atop Florida roofs and on Florida construction sites, usually for lower wages than most Floridians would ever accept? Or will it be the companies and corporations that are exploiting them for profit?

I think I know. But let’s watch together. Because this is the first time Florida lawmakers have even pretended like they might crack down on employers.

For years, GOP lawmakers would scream about illegal immigration but say nothing about those who profited off the system. It was like screaming about human trafficking while giving a pass to the traffickers.

Finally, this year — after lots of attention on their selective outrage — lawmakers agreed to insert a provision in their new immigration crackdown that claims to target employers. It promises hefty fines to any company with 25 or more employees that doesn’t vet all its hires through the federal government’s E-Verify system.

But read the new law closely. I did. One provision in SB 1718 gives any employer caught breaking the law “30 days to cure the noncompliance” before facing fines.

Think about that for a minute. How many other lawbreakers are treated that way? When cops catch a burglar, they don’t say: Sir, you have 30 days to cure your “noncompliance” with Florida’s larceny laws before we do anything about it.

Another section says the $1,000 fines will start after the state finds that an employer breaks the rules “three times in any 24-month period.”

Again, can you imagine trotting out that excuse if you were caught doing something illegal? (Officer, I know you caught me pouring gasoline down the storm drain. But it only seems fair to wait until you catch me doing the same, illegal thing two more times before taking action.)

White-collar lawbreakers are rarely treated the same way petty thieves are. And this law all but ensures that will continue to be the case.

If Florida lawmakers really wanted to crack down on employers flouting state and national hiring laws, it would be easy to do so.

The American Farm Bureau, after all, freely admits that more than half of its workforce is undocumented, stating right on its website: “At least 50-70 percent of farm laborers in the country today are unauthorized.”

So, if the state truly cracked down after this new law takes effect, more than half this state’s agricultural workforce would be gone by late summer. Crops would rot in the fields. Produce prices would skyrocket.

As Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino recently wrote, Floridians who fume about “stolen” jobs would be able to “consider some red-hot new career opportunities picking vegetables, tarring roofs or cleaning hotel toilets.”

This is why GOP lawmakers never really wanted to crack down on undocumented workers. Florida’s low-wage economy — centered around tourism, construction and agriculture — would collapse without the 700,000-plus undocumented workers who make it run. (Plus, their campaign donors wouldn’t like it.)

Why do you think that, when Ron DeSantis wanted to pull an immigration stunt by flying a bunch of migrants off to Martha’s Vineyard, he bypassed the hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers in Florida’s labor pool and went all the way to Texas?

Immigrant advocates in Florida were able to strip some of the worst parts from the crackdown law, including the original proposal to arrest anyone — including nuns and nonprofit workers — who helped an undocumented immigrant, possibly even if the helper didn’t know.

“We were able to stop the most harmful parts,” said Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet, a Brazilian immigrant who is now executive director of Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka. “And the silver lining is that a new movement brewed up. We spoke up. We said: This is our home and we belong here. I call it a new us.”

Sousa-Lazaballet still has plenty of concerns about the new law, including the parts that ask hospitals to collect data on the immigration status of people who need help and the $12 million lawmakers set aside for more relocation stunts, like last year’s involving Martha’s Vineyard.

I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to some of these businesses and industries that rely on undocumented workers. They’ve been put in a tough position. They have customers demanding cheap products and politicians who refuse to pass meaningful, sensible immigration reform.

We’re a nation full of people who feel entitled to 25-cent tomatoes and yet who scream about the very workers who harvest those cheap eats while also accusing them of sTEaLiNg oUr jObS!

It’s cheap and ugly politics. The real solution is both comprehensive reform and an American acknowledgment that we can’t expect things so cheaply.

But since Florida politicians aren’t much into comprehensive solutions, they’ve just vowed to do a crackdown.

Well, if your version of an immigration crackdown is to target the people fleeing oppression and poverty — and not the corporate entities trying to illegally profit off that misery — then you have a twisted set of values.

So we’ll see what Florida’s values are in a few weeks — when we see who’s targeted.