Ahead of 2020, Republicans Craft Immigration Policy

Ahead of 2020, Republicans Craft Immigration Policy

By Ana Ceballos, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Two prominent state senators intend to release proposals for the 2020 legislative session that would set up the Republican platform on immigration, a key issue going into next year’s election cycle.

Sen. Joe Gruters, who doubles as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and Senate Judiciary Chairman David Simmons plan to file measures that illustrate different approaches to the thorny topic of immigration, the source of some of the Legislature’s most heated controversies in recent years.

While Gruters’ proposals would further crack down on illegal immigration, Simmons is seeking to add protections for undocumented residents living and working in the Sunshine State.

Simmons says he will file legislation that would give undocumented immigrants legal permits to work and drive in Florida, in an effort to bring them “out of the shadows” and have them follow state laws. Such a policy change would have an impact on roughly 800,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state.

“They are already working, and they are already driving,” Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, told The News Service of Florida in a recent interview. “This is not a path to citizenship. This is about dealing with this in a matter that is not demagoguing individuals.”

Gruters, who earlier this year sponsored a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities,” is taking the opposite approach. He wants to pair up with state Rep. Cord Byrd again to push bills that will toughen immigration laws in the state. 

One measure “would enhance penalties for convicted and deported criminals who re-enter the United States illegally,” Gruters said in a text message. 

Another proposal would require all Florida employers to use E-Verify, a federal electronic system that checks employees’ eligibility to work in the U.S.

With President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket on next year’s ballot, the immigration measures could be an important tool in Florida, a state considered crucial for a White House win and a place where the issue has aided GOP candidates.

For example, Gov. Ron DeSantis used a hard-line stance on immigration as part of a successful playbook in his bid for governor last year. 

Since taking office in January, DeSantis — whose endorsement by President Donald Trump helped boost him to victory in November — was heavily involved in the passage of the sanctuary city ban. The law, which went into effect on July 1, is being challenged in federal court.

The governor’s office did not respond when asked if DeSantis would support any of the immigration proposals next session. And Gruters said it is “too early” for the governor to be involved in his bills. 

With the passage of the sanctuary city ban, Gruters already allowed the governor to deliver on one of his campaign promises. And the Sarasota Republican may help DeSantis make good on another immigration pledge with the E-Verify proposal, which has faced fierce opposition from Florida agricultural and business interests in the past.

Gruters, meanwhile, said he is still open to considering other immigration-related bills. The senator is preparing to embark on a statewide immigration “listening tour.” Dates and locations of the stops will be announced this week, Gruters said.

While the Republicans’ crackdown on illegal immigration may help court conservative voters in advance of next year’s elections, Democrats have lambasted the policies.

“These pieces of legislation are nothing more than a reflection of the President’s xenophobic strategy of demonizing our immigrant communities and firing up the Republican base ahead of the 2020 election,” Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, told the News Service.

Cruz is more aligned to what Simmons is proposing.

“Florida’s economic future is dependent on continuing to build our reputation as a welcoming state that values diversity and inclusion,” Cruz said. “Instead of driving undocumented immigrants further into the shadows, we should be doing all we can to ensure they have the ability to work legally, pay taxes, and live without fear of being separated from their families.”

Simmons’ softer approach to immigration policy may be a hard sell for his fellow Republicans, especially in an election year. Similar efforts previously have failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

But allowing undocumented immigrants to work and drive legally in Florida could resonate among Hispanic voters — a key constituency in the Sunshine State — at a time when immigrant communities are fearful of the new sanctuary city law.

The new statute requires local law enforcement agencies to fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities when undocumented immigrants are detained or in the custody of law enforcement. That can include detention over a driving offense.

Simmons said he still supports the sanctuary city law and does not believe exemptions should be carved out for undocumented immigrants who commit minor driving offenses.

Instead, he says undocumented immigrants should follow state driving laws and be given the ability to have insurance. Simmons said his proposal would put together an “immigration policy that works,” until the federal government acts.

Senate President Bill Galvano’s office said none of the immigration proposals were sought at his direction. While Galvano has spoken with Gruters, the Senate president has not talked with Simmons about his bill yet, according to Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta.

“Oftentimes senators from both parties will mention ideas to the president or let him know what they are working on, but he doesn’t green-light or red-light every proposal from the onset,” Betta said in an email. “To the contrary, the president makes every effort to refrain from weighing in, so that senators have the opportunity to vet their ideas with their colleagues and constituents.”

Though the Senate’s top Republican says he has refrained from chiming in on the immigration policies, the business lobby is already gearing up for a fight — at least when it comes to E-Verify.

“It will certainly be a priority of ours,” said Towson Fraser, a spokesman for the American Business Immigration Coalition, whose membership includes South Florida billionaire Mike Fernandez, a former GOP contributor who left the Republican Party, in part, because of its hardline immigration policies.

The group’s members also include billionaire auto-dealer Norman Braman and lobbyist Al Cardenas, a former Republican Party of Florida chairman. 

Fraser said the group — and a “majority of businesses” — oppose E-Verify and will likely have discussions in the near future to determine what resources will be devoted to the fight against the policy.

In Florida, representatives of the agriculture and construction industry have publicly warned that E-Verify would make it harder for them to find workers. 

But DeSantis isn’t backing down from the battle over E-Verify.

“We got a lot of irons in the fire this session, we want to deliver on things that we can,” DeSantis told reporters in March. “This will be one I’m not going to quit on.”

9 Responses to "Ahead of 2020, Republicans Craft Immigration Policy"

  1. The replies, above, are true and represent the views of, not only Floridians, but most American CITIZENS! If only we had an honest media, instead of one that was in bed with the left’s (and RINO) stance on immigration, it would be reported that most citizens DON’T want Dreamers to stay, and want all illegals deported. In fact, the Democrats that I know, would agree with those who posted these comments. If the truth was known – the cost of illegals CHIP, SNAP, healthcare (using hospital er, Medicaid), incarceration, education, etc.), that most Dreamers hold menial jobs, are field pickers, don’t graduate high school, etc, and that some are gang members. Saying that Dreamers are not familiar with their native country, is nonsense. More than likely, their parents are illiterate, or barely literate, thus, they must speak their native language at home, they have extended families, are knowledgeable about their culture. Add to that, those babies born to those whom we don’t deport, the bastardization of the 14th Amendment, and the services they are eligible for… this is insanity! By not mandating E-Verify, that alone would be a magnet to attract more illegals.

  2. If the US of A wants to truly do something about illegal immigrants it should close down all the businesses that hire, house, transport or feed them. Anything less is just political rhetoric.

  3. Registering the 800,000 illegals in Florida to drive and having them “get legal permits to work” sounds like a nice idea – until you factor in the probability of “people in the shadows” (who already are driving and working illegally) willingly coming forward to “register” and thus have their names and whereabouts known to authorities. Not very likely, is it? If Fernando already is driving and working and getting a paycheck, and no one other his employer and his co-workers even knows he exists, what incentive will he have to announce his presence with “registration”?

    As for various “industries” crying poor about E-Verify causing them “problems finding workers”, I don’t give a (generic expletive) about their problems. We have a crisis in America that business is making worse by fighting E-Verify for their stupid profit, period. Businesses betraying America for the sake of hiring low-wage illegals is a (generic expletive) crime, and should be treated as such.
    My suggestion for a new federal regulation: Any business (large or small, corporation, sandwich shop or roofing company) found to be hiring illegals without using E-verify should be formally charged with a federal felony, plus additional fines for each illegal hired to be $250 per day, retroactive to the day the illegal was hired, doubled if the employee has been with the business for a year, tripled if longer. The goal being to remove the job sources for illegals: nothing here for you, unless you come into America in the standard approved legal process, become a citizen, and pay your taxes with the rest of us.

  4. Why should there be controversies at all? Just say, “If you come here illegally, you WILL be Deported and NOT allowed to ever come here Legally.

    1. Amen, Tony!
      I will advocate pushing back against the Jihad Squad and their ilk until my last breath!
      I say, great, collect all that data on the 800,000 illegals when they register to drive and have their photo taken.
      Then, round ’em up and deport them using that data to track and find them.

  5. The idea that Republicans want to do anything more than talk tough about brown people in order to cajole moronic racists into voting for them is a total joke. It is all fury and red meat and vitriol speaking to the lowest common denominator of humanity, fear and hatred of the other.

    Want to stop illegals from working? Send a fleet of ICE trucks to Yum Brands farms every day for a month. But what then? Won’t someone think of the corporations, who might need to pay an extra cent (or two?!?) per pound of tomatoes. The horror.

    There isn’t any big mystery as to where illegal immigrants are. Goto the tomato farms in Homestead, goto the meat packing plants in Nebraska, goto any construction site on the south east and you can round up as many immigrants as you can fit into the back of a truck. By and large however, the large employers, the business community, who are the money backbone of the Republican party like illegal immigrants because they don’t have to pay them as much, do not have to worry about being sued by them for working conditions or injuries, and are able to pocket those savings. This is why the actions on immigration are all talk, all bluster, and achieve nothing.

    1. Right on that point. I completely agree that many “Establishment” long-term Republicans in Washington want illegals here just as the Dem-Socialists do. The Establishment R’s just want illegals for different reasons. Mainly, to satisfy their wealthy donors who want cheap labor. The Establishment R’s also like Globalist policies (despite what they tell the voters), so they can enrich themselves with donor money and crony capitalist deals – and their wealthy donors will keep them in power in DC. That’s why I never give money to the RNC, the Establishment R’s work against the good of American citizens in order to line their own pockets, pure and simple. The R Party has it’s factions, just as the DS’s do. Trump, the Freedom Caucus and a few other patriot R’s are the faction actually trying to do some good for Americans.
      The DS’s, on the other hand, want the Illegals’ votes, since the DS’s depend on a permanent underclass of the poor and poorly educated (by design) to vote for DS’s, who will then give taxpayer-funded giveaways (“We need more taxes!” is their never-ending mantra) to that underclass to keep them dependent on welfare and government giveaways. That’s exactly what the DS’s have done to black generations for more than half a century – kept them poor and in bad schools so they remain in the ghetto, unemployed, poorly educated, and always dependent on the DS for welfare in one form or another. Ever wonder why so many blacks are still in the ghettos and have poor educations and awful schools, despite voting Democrat for decades? It’s by DS design: keep those people forever poor and dependent DS voters! They’re still on the DS Plantation, although more are slowly starting to wake up to what’s being done to them.
      So you’re right on that point – there’s a sizable faction of R’s that want illegals here almost as much as DS’s. That’s why Trump is fighting such an uphill battle in Washington: he threatens the decades-long game tables of both parties.

    2. Do not mud up the water with whats happening on the southern boarder and try to make parrells to the already established process and procedures in place to bring in guest workers to harvest crops.
      Once harvest is complete the honest hard working guest workers go back to their country. And no they do not vote, get food stamps, or free health care before going back home to their country.

  6. I hope the Dem-Socialist candidates for office (especially President) loudly continue taking extremist positions on immigration such as: decriminalizing crossing illegal border crossing, abolishing ICE and DHS, and providing “free” (American taxpayer-paid) healthcare for illegals (they are NOT immigrants, they are illegals). These radical DS policies are rejected by a decisive majority of Amercans. Even the Center for American Progress (a DS operative org) has said that in a recent report.

    The main reason DS’s want more illegals here is to vote Democrat. DS’s know they can’t win an election with American voters, so their plan is to overcome American voters with illegals’ votes. That would turn America into the next Venezuela or Cuba. I hope the DS’s stay on their radical course, they’ll find out how much American citizens are determined to reject that future.

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