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  1. #1
    Senior Member Dixie's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    Texas - Occupied State - The Front Line

    Florida Legislature tackles immigration

    Florida Legislature tackles immigration
    Tuesday, April 01, 2008; Posted: 09:29 PM

    Apr 01, 2008 (South Florida Sun-Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune News

    Service via COMTEX) -- -- A Legislature reluctant to tackle immigration policy in an election year made its first foray into the issue Tuesday with a proposal to kick out of the county illegal immigrants in Florida's prisons who volunteer to be deported.

    Even that measure, approved on a bipartisan vote in its first Senate committee stop, is billed by supporters more as a cost-saving measure than a bid to crack down on illegal immigrants.

    With the Florida Legislature's annual lawmaking session halfway over, the hot-button issue of illegal immigration has largely been absent from the agenda. Bills to deny illegal immigrants state benefits such as food stamps and require companies to verify the legal status of employees have been idled as state legislators have dealt with a $3 billion budget shortfall.

    "I don't know who is blocking it, but they're doing the public a disservice," said Republican Rep. Don Brown who is sponsoring one of the toughest bills targeting illegal immigrants. His bill would, among other things, prohibit so-called "sanctuary cities" where local police are barred from enforcing immigration laws.

    Meanwhile, states across the country are moving to beef up laws dealing with issues stemming from the estimated 12 million people in the United States illegally. A spike in activity on the immigration front swept through state capitals after talks in Congress to overhaul the nation's immigration laws broke down last year.

    The Senate bill (SB1086), which cleared the Criminal Justice Committee by unanimous vote Tuesday, would allow for deportation of the estimated 5,000 illegal immigrants in Florida prisons, as long as they've served 50 percent of their sentences and agree to be deported. Similar laws in New York and Arizona saved the states $141 million and $13 million in inmate costs from 2005 to 2007, respectively.

    But even this bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mike Bennett has yet to get a hearing in the House. That chamber has scheduled a workshop on immigration policy next week _ a sign, to Brown, that immigration bills have a dim chance of passage during the session that ends May 2.

    Still, some legislative leaders including Republican House Majority Leader Adam Hasner say there's still time to address immigration policy, especially since the Senate took the first step Tuesday.

    Some maintain Florida should do nothing. Courtney Strickland, a lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said, "It's not a great idea to have a patchwork of laws and policies across the states."

    But many other states have stepped in to fill what they perceive as a vacuum caused by federal inaction. In 2007, state legislatures adopted 240 bills related to immigration _ a threefold increase over the previous year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Many of the new restrictions focus on the workplace. Two states _ Arizona and Oklahoma _ require all employers to verify the legal status of their workers, while a dozen others require such verification for companies that receive public subsidies or government contracts. Other states have focused on tightening identification laws and making sure only legal residents can get public benefits.

    Christine Jones, of the Palm Beach County Coalition for Immigration Rights, criticized such state laws as an "attempt to divide and cause fear by legislators who think they're going to be solving problems that we've had long before the immigration debate."

    But lawmakers also face pressure from opposing groups that advocate a much harder line against immigrants _ groups that are stepping up their activity in a campaign season, said Ann Morse, an immigration expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    One such effort comes from a group called Border Control Now, which is airing an Internet ad accusing Republican Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio of blocking bills targeting illegal immigrants. Rubio spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin said she hadn't seen the ad.

    Others are taking steps to stem such criticism. Republican Sen. Jeff Atwater sent a letter to constituents vowing to push legislation to "awaken Congress and the Florida Legislature about the consequences associated with the complex issue of granting blanket amnesty to illegal immigrants." He is a co-sponsor of Bennett's bill to deport illegal immigrants serving prison terms.

    The House's Brown said the public wants action, whether from the state or the federal government.

    "We have laws, and we expect our own citizens to obey the laws," he said. "I have a heart for the plight of people who have enjoyed the lax enforcement of our immigration laws. But we must require that our laws be honored." ... s/1291717/
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  2. #2
    Administrator Jean's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    This immigration bill makes sense for state
    Palm Beach Post Editorial

    Monday, April 07, 2008

    At least a half-dozen bills on immigration are being circulated in Legislature. All except one are examples of political grandstanding that would force the state to take on responsibilities that rightly belong to the federal government.

    The one good bill is a proposal that could save taxpayers millions by allowing the deportation of illegal immigrants in Florida's prisons. Cosponsored by Sens. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, and Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, Senate Bill 1086 would require state prison officials to work with Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport illegal immigrants who had served at least half of their sentences. The offenders would have to agree to be deported, and their home countries would have to agree to take them.

    Former Gov. Lawton Chiles did something similar in 1994 when he worked with federal authorities to send hundreds of illegal immigrants - most of them convicted on drug charges and nonviolent offenses - from prisons in Florida to their homelands. Cubans were exempted because the United States has no formal diplomatic relations with the Castro government.

    About 5,000 illegal immigrants are believed to be in Florida prisons, representing about 6 percent of the inmate population. About 61 percent of the illegals were convicted of violent crimes. Cuban nationals still make up the largest percentage of those incarcerated, followed by Mexicans and Jamaicans.

    According to the Florida Department of Corrections, it costs the state about $20,000 annually to incarcerate an inmate, so the potential savings in a tight budget year could be substantial. New York saved about $150 million last year with a similar measure, and Arizona also has freed up prison cells through deportation.

    The Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the legislation last week. The bill could come up for discussion in the House this week. Unlike the other immigration bills in the Legislature, the prisoner deportation measure does not encroach into federal enforcement responsibilities and put more burdens on the state. Even most immigrant advocates and defense lawyers have no objections because inmates would have to accept deportation voluntarily. Many of them are more than ready to leave the country, and it makes no sense for the state to pay to keep them here.
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