Politics & Government

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Businesses support immigration checks: Many Manatee County company owners back proposal

BRADENTON — Tampa lawmaker Kevin Ambler, like Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, is drafting a bill to enforce immigration checks in Florida and the state representative wants it discussed during a special legislative session this month.

The bill proposed by Ambler, R-Tampa, is similar to Arizona’s immigration enforcement bill and he is requesting to have the bill added to the special session Gov. Charlie Crist called for July 20-23 to discuss a Florida oil drilling ban.

Bennett said he does not see House and Senate leaders agreeing to add the new legislation to the agenda but will participate in the discussion should it occur.

“I think it might be a little early to discuss it at a special session,” said Bennett, who is proposing his bill for the 2011 legislative session.

Both Bennett’s and Ambler’s proposed legislation would give law enforcement authority to request proof of citizenship when drivers are stopped for another reason.

“I think everybody recognizes all we want to do is give our police officers a tool to make sure people are here legally,” Bennett said. “What we really should be doing is working hard to secure the borders.”

Arizona’s law, which is to take effect at the end of July, has brought on a lawsuit from the U.S. government, tourism boycotts and worries about racial profiling.

Miami-based immigration attorney Hector Chichoni said such a law in Florida would be damaging to the state’s economy.

“One detriment would be the boycotts that we can suffer, the loss of entire workforces for employers, loss of legitimate jobs; it could cripple our economy,” Chichoni said. “If people start boycotting our state the way they’re doing with Arizona, we will hurt and we will hurt a lot more.”

Some local business owners, however, say they would back such a law in Florida.

“I do agree with the Arizona-style law,” said Dennis Cathcart, co-owner of Tropiflora in southern Manatee. “We’re an agricultural business and about half of our workforce is Mexican and other Latin Americans. I think they would resent somebody who is here illegally coming in and trying to take their jobs.”

Deborah Cassidy, owner of Clean as a Whistle, too, is in favor of the proposed immigration enforcement checks.

“I support it 150 percent,” said Cassidy, who operates a residential and commercial cleaning business in Manatee and Sarasota counties. “If they’re here illegally, they do not belong in the United States. I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re having problems with employment; because they’re taking the jobs.”

Chichoni, a partner with the Miami law firm Epstein Becker Green, said the law “will wipe out entire work forces of many employers.”

“I think it’s going to be a tough fight because people are going to react pretty badly to it, especially in southern Florida,” Chichoni said.

The Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce opposed the Arizona bill when it was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in April.

Fermin C. Miranda, the chamber’s board chairman, could not be reached for comment Monday but told the Bradenton Herald on May 1: “We strongly oppose this measure and would hope that there would be no similar measures undertaken in the state of Florida.”

The Manatee Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on the proposed legislation, said Neil Spirtas, vice president of public policy and small business.

Should the chamber decide to take a stance on the issue, it will be decided next month as officials prepare the organization’s legislative platform, Spirtas said.

“We haven’t had a position on immigration issues in the past,” he said.

Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, founder and president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes such legislation would help crack down on the identity theft that has struck Puerto Ricans nationwide.

In December, Puerto Rico called for those born on the island to obtain new birth certificates due to the Legislature finding there were tens of millions of unsecured birth certificates.

“Personally, I am very supportive of the Arizona bill,” Cuevas-Neunder said. “I will be supporting a bill like Arizona’s for Florida. With the thousands of stolen birth certificates in Puerto Rico, there’s even more (reason) for it.”