Much-touted E-Verify law hits snag
No one snared under DeSantis-backed policy one lawmaker describes as ‘window dressing’
TALLAHASSEE — Private employers in Florida have been required to use E-Verify, a federal system for checking the legal status of a potential hire, since the start of the year. But there have been no complaints made to the state agency in charge of enforcing the law in the five and a half months it’s been in effect.
A Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman told the Orlando Sentinel there have been no complaints and no enforcement measures taken against any employers since the provisions affecting private businesses took effect Jan. 1.
The lack of tangible enforcement within the new law has led to criticism from those who seek more aggressive measures to ensure undocumented immigrants aren’t being hired.
“It’s a fake bill. It’s paper thin. It’s window dressing,” said Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-inthe-Hills. “It’s a bill to make it looked like we passed EVerify in the state of Florida.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed his fellow Republicans in charge of the Legislature to pass the bill last year and included it as a top priority, arguing it would help screen undocumented immigrants from the workforce and help lead to pay increases for low-wage workers.
“Lower-income workers also shouldn’t have their wages depressed by cheap foreign labor,”
DeSantis said in his 2020 State of the State speech. “Assuring a legal workforce through E-Verify will be good for the rule of law, protect taxpayers, and place an upward pressure on the wages of Floridians who work in blue collar jobs.”
A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not return an email seeking
But the law passed by the Legislature contains little teeth and imposes few requirements on private businesses.
The bill, SB 664, requires state and local governments and their contractors and subcontractors to use EVerify, something that was already required for state agencies under a previous executive order issued by DeSantis’ predecessor, Rick Scott. Scott, though, failed to pass an EVerify bill during his eight years in office.
Private employers were called to use EVerify under the law or use an I-9 document used by federal immigration authorities to determine immigration status. The documents must be kept on file for three years for any hire made after Jan. 1.
But while an earlier version of the bill would’ve allowed DEO to randomly audit businesses to check for compliance and impose
$500 fines, it was watered down before it passed in the face of pressure from big business lobbies.
DEO can only require an employer found out of compliance to sign an affidavit saying they will use EVerify in the future or retain the employment eligibility documents. If an employer doesn’t sign an affidavit within 30 days of DEO’s request, only then can they remove the appropriate business license allowing the company to operate.
But DEO hasn’t engaged in any of those enforcement measures because they haven’t received a complaint.
For Sabatini, that statistic doesn’t show that everyone is following the law — a Pew Research study from 2016 estimated there were 775,000 undocumented immigrants in Florida — but rather how weak the law’s enforcement provisions are. He filed a bill this year to remove the option for private employers to use the I-9 document instead of EVerify, but it didn’t receive a hearing.
“It was a fake bill and kind of a stain on the Republican legislature,” said Sabatini.
The lack of complaints regarding EVerify is despite a spate of hiring by businesses since the start of the year as the economy continues to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the year through April, Florida has added nearly 77,000 jobs.
In fact, Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson wrote to members this week that Florida is facing a “workforce crisis” because there are more open jobs (512,900) than people looking for work (487,000).
Business lobbies, though, haven’t pointed to EVerify or onerous regulations as the reason for the difficulty in finding workers, instead blaming the $300 federal supplement to weekly unemployment benefits. DeSantis has said Florida will withdraw from the supplemental payments on June 26.