- Associated Press - Monday, November 25, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida’s Republican governor began his push Friday to win support for mandatory immigration checks on millions of workers, linking public safety with his efforts to keep people who are living in the country illegally out of his state.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing lawmakers to require all employers to use a federally operated electronic database, known as E-Verify, to weed out people who are not authorized to work in this country.

“It’s about fairness for lawful immigrants and native-born workers, and it’s about public safety,” DeSantis said in a statement released after a Monday news conference in The Villages launching his latest push to win passage for the E-Verify system.

DeSantis was joined at his media event by parents who say loved ones were killed by immigrants in the country illegally. One woman said her daughter died in a traffic accident involving an immigrant living here illegally .

He was also joined by lawmakers who have championed tighter borders, including an author of a bill that DeSantis signed earlier this year prohibiting so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.

With 2020 elections ahead, the E-Verify debate could again plunge Florida into the politically divisive issue of immigration. It’s sure to be another hot-button issue during next year’s presidential campaign, particularly in a state like Florida with one of the country’s largest Latino populations.

“The fact that it’s being linked shows the intent behind this is. This has nothing to do with our economy. It has nothing to do with moving our business community forward,” said state Rep. Cindy Polo, a Miami-area Democrat who is the daughter of Colombian immigrants.

E-Verify legislation has come under scrutiny by business groups in Florida’s biggest industries - agriculture, construction and tourism - that rely on immigrant labor.

Some groups have expressed concern. In a letter sent last month to the governor and top legislative Republicans, some business leaders called E-Verify “notoriously flawed” and said it would be “a disaster for Florida’s economy.”

If approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, most Florida employers would be required to use the E-Verify system, an electronic portal operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that confirms the eligibility of people to work in the United States.

About two dozen states now tap into the E-Verify data. But some of them, including Florida, only require the verification for government jobs.

Saying he supports a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, DeSantis asserted at his media event that the flow can be cut by removing a key incentive: jobs.

“A lot of times you will have businesses throughout the country, including here in Florida that will hire cheap, foreign illegal labor that undercuts American wages and obviously creates an incentive for people to come illegally,” he said.

But the fate of his proposal is uncertain because of opposition by business groups who prevented a similar measure from making it out of this year’s legislative session

At a news media event organized by the Associated Press last month, Senate President Bill Galvano, also a Republican, said he expected “robust debate” over the issue and said the governor would have to make a strong case to win over lawmakers, particularly legislators with strong ties to the business community.

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