Florida’s E-Verify Ballot Opposed by Latino Business

A Latino-led business coalition is trying to block a Florida state constitutional amendment that would penalize companies which hire illegal immigrants.

A volunteer group of pro-American reformers is fighting to get the wage-raising E-Verify measure on the November ballot. “This is a David and Goliath situation … I’m fighting billionaires, and I’m just a regular construction guy,” said Jack Oliver, a former construction worker who is now director of Floridians for E-Verify Now. Without an E-Verify system which forces companies to bar illegals from jobs, company foremen won’t hire and train Americans, Oliver said, adding:

They don’t hire Johnny down the street. They call up their cousin in Mexico or the Caribbean and say “Send my nephew up here. I’ve got another slot on the crew, I’ll teach him how to this.” That robs opportunities from [American] people who are not going to college.

The business coalition is arguing that the proposed E-Verify measure will cost them money. “The Proposal would be devastating and costly to Floridian businesses and workers,” says a protest letter from the business coalition. Most of the signers are Latino business leaders, including Mike Fernandez, a billionaire healthcare investor who favored the GOP in 2012 and Democratic Party in 2016. The letter continued:

The cost to employers posed by Proposal 29 could be astronomical … As Bob Dickinson, Retired CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines has said, “Proposal 29 is anti-jobs. It would impose unacceptable burdens on Florida’s businesses and workers. It is bad for our tourism industry and creates disincentives for businesses to be in our state.”

The employers’ backlash against the proposed immigration reform is rational because they are being pressured to raise wages to many urban and suburban workers amid a tight labor market in President Donald Trump’s economy. “We’re on the cusp of that … I think we’ll see it full-scale in 2018,” Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness said in January. 

In contrast, politicians have a rational incentive to help raise voters’ wages by shrinking the supply of illegal workers. Governor Rick Scott, for example, touted a mandatory E-Verify plan when he ran for governor in 2010 (“He reneged on it,” said Oliver). Scott has now announced he will run against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this November. He likely will be aided if the popular E-Verify measure is on the ballot. 

The Florida dispute is caused by a novel feature in the state’s constitution, which creates a commission every 20 years to draft constitutional reforms for later approval in the state-wide ballot. This year, the panel has approved a draft ballot initiative that would require companies to use an E-Verify system before hiring. The proposal is pushed by commissioner Rich Newsome, and it has been approved three times by the 37-member panel.

The proposal will be reviewed a final time on the 16th or 17th and it must be approved by 22 members of the 37-member panel before it can be scheduled for the November ballot.

In the most recent vote, supporters won 19 votes and 13 rejections, while five commissioners were absent. The commissioners who voted no included an African-American politician and lawyer, Arthenia Joyner, conservative activist John Stemberger, and criminal lawyer Hank Coxe.