Peltier column: Is Arizona immigration law coming to Florida?

MICHAEL PELTIER

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— The immigration fight may come to Florida as early as next year after a House Republican said he’ll likely file legislation to crack down on illegal immigration by proposing a measure similar to a controversial measure passed in Arizona that has sparked a national debate.

Though some portions of the Arizona law are not appropriate in Florida, Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, said last week that other provisions of the controversial law can be tailored to address what he said is a “shadowy underworld” of illegal immigrants and those who profit from their exploitation.

“If it looks like it’s got a chance I’ll introduce it,” Snyder, R-Stuart, said in an interview.

Among its major provisions, the Arizona law requires immigrants to carry identification documenting their immigration status. Snyder, who spent 20 years as a police officer in Miami, admits it will be challenging to craft a law that protects the rights of legal immigrants and citizens while ending a look-the-other way approach to illegal residents living and working in Florida.

“There is no way would I want someone to be approached solely because of their ethnic background,” said Snyder, considered a moderate among House Republicans. “There is no perfect system in the world, but with careful drafting, we can make a clearer line.”

Some are skeptical that such a line can be drawn while others oppose the notion outright. In a heavily diverse state, critics say it would be difficult and expensive to enforce and could lead to profiling.

Snyder, however, said illegal immigration is more problematic than many people believe because they come and go in a “shadowy world” in which they live and too often die completely under the radar.

“There is a human rights element here,” Snyder said. “Someone is making a buck off these people.”

“If they are a victim of crime, they don’t report it,” Snyder said. “If they cut off a thumb, they don’t go in for treatment … They are not rooted in time and place. They can come and go and no one knows they exist.”

Along with opposition from immigrant worker advocates, Snyder may also face resistance from business groups. Florida’s hospitality, retail and agricultural industries are especially reliant on immigrant workers. The Arizona law also has sanctions for employers who knowingly hire, transport or pick up illegal immigrants.

Enforcement is another matter, especially in areas of the state where Hispanics represent a majority or high plurality of residents.

“We already have limited resources for law enforcement and we need to be focused on violent crime,” said Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat from the Orlando area, which has a sizable Puerto Rican community, and large numbers of Mexican workers who came there for the construction boom in the last decade. “This would distract from that priority.”

Florida would be among a growing list of at least a dozen states to contemplate an Arizona-like approach to curbing illegal immigration. Along with southern border states, Georgia, Maryland and Ohio are among other states to at least consider the law.

Snyder has gotten the attention of national media. He’s scheduled for repeated interviews on Fox News next week, including an appearance today with business anchor Neil Cavuto.

E-mail Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net.

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