Jump to Navigation
Topical Breezes
Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
Should Florida require businesses to use e-Verify to screen employees for eligibility to work in the U.S.?
Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, on Jan. 4. 2011, issued an executive order requiring state agencies under the governor’s direction to use e-Verify, a database of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to screen employees to determine eligibility to work in the United States. E-Verify has become part of the larger debate on immigration, both at the federal and state level. Legislation to make its use mandatory by Florida businesses made no headway in the last regular session of the Florida Legislature. However, it’s likely to come up again.
Leticia Adams
Director of Infrastructure & Governance Policy, Florida Chamber of Commerce

Florida needs a well-rounded and competitive workforce to produce goods and services that will ensure a robust economic future for our state. 

To compete successfully in the future marketplace, Florida must plan for the labor demands resulting from an aging labor force, changing skills set needs and growth in global demand.  Florida currently lacks an adequate population of skilled workers in science, technology, and engineering-related fields.   Long-term forecasts indicate the problem will grow more severe if employers are not able to utilize legal immigrants to supplement their workforce.

Outdated and overly restrictive visa policies are depriving employers of the talent needed to succeed in a global economy.  The expansion of  both temporary and permanent visa programs for highly skilled workers as well as programs that enable employers to access and keep the talent necessary to compete in the global market are essential to Florida’s future growth.

Since the passage of Arizona’s ill-fated anti-immigrant legislation, there has been a patchwork of state and local government mandates.  While supporters of the anti-immigrant legislation have had some successes in a handful of states, far more states rejected anti-immigrant bills due to cost and compliance issues. Arizona, Georgia and Alabama have all served as examples of the economic consequences of such legislation. These laws are expensive to implement and place a heavy burden on state and local governments already feeling the effects of a down economy. 

Misplaced efforts to expand e-Verify as an immigration-enforcement tool are ultimately bad for the economy. There is no guarantee that any undocumented worker will leave the country as a result of e-Verify, nor will it prevent identity theft.   Instead, an entire sector of government will have to grow exponentially to accommodate an influx of inquiries to a system based on already flawed Social Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security information. 

Aside from growth in government sector expenses, e-Verify places significant burdens on businesses, especially small businesses that do not have human resources and legal departments that could handle e-Verify errors and registration requirements as well as compliance issues leading to significant investments of time, money and lost productivity.  E-Verify requires high-speed Internet access.  A lot of rural communities, where small businesses are the backbone of the local economy, don’t have it, leaving the business owner to bear that cost and responsibility. 

Mandatory e-Verify without comprehensive federal immigration reform will not end illegal immigration, free up jobs for unemployed Americans, or save the country money. As Florida positions itself to be the preeminent state in job growth, business-friendly regulatory climate, international tourism, and foreign trade and investment, legislation that tarnishes our global image only serves to harm our state economy. 

A comprehensive, federal approach to immigration serves our nation’s best interest and is critical for Florida as we position ourselves to win the global race for talent and jobs. 

Jim Spratt
Director of Government Affairs, Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Assocation

Congress has been unwilling to enact comprehensive and meaningful immigration reforms. It’s embarrassing and upsetting that Congress cannot even agree on how to provide for our nation’s border security to keep out terrorists, drug runners and human smugglers. As a direct result of congressional inaction, several states have taken matters into
their own hands. States have adopted a potpourri of different immigration laws, including empowering police to check immigration status and, most notably, mandating businesses to utilize the Federal Electronic Verification System (e-Verify) on all newly hired employees.

In 2011, Florida seemed poised to join the list of states with their own unique brands of immigration policies. Similar to Arizona, Florida’s proposed law would have required businesses to utilize e-Verify to check the legal status of employees. While the Florida measure fell short, just across our border, Georgia and Alabama enacted Arizona-style laws and almost immediately realized the significant economic consequences of their decisions.

In Georgia, farm labor shortages accounted for a $181 million loss in specialty crop farming alone (i.e., tomato, watermelon, nursery, blueberry, and squash). To put this number into perspective, agricultural production accounts for 8 percent of Georgia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Alabama’s agricultural losses in its specialty crops alone accounted for another $200 million to $400 million. Adding to these staggering economic consequences, the University of Alabama estimated the exodus of 80,000 undocumented workers will also eliminate the need for 60,000 additional jobs
downstream in the economy. If you are keeping score at home, that is 140,000 jobs lost.

Regardless of its questionable accuracy, simplicity and effectiveness, mandating the use of e-Verify is a no-win scenario. Immigration policy that addresses only one issue is destined to fail. If you want companies to rely on e-Verify, then you must also be willing to develop a realistic guest-worker program. Why? Because as much as it hurts our feelings, even with high unemployment, domestic workers are not applying for labor-intensive jobs such as harvesting crops. In fact, recent studies indicate less than 5 percent of domestically born applicants for farm jobs actually finished a single harvesting season. Let’s be clear: Efficient farm laborers are making as much as $15 to $18 per hour, nursery and landscape employees are earning $10 to $14 dollars per hour. Not to mention, these employees receive payroll checks with employers paying workers compensation, unemployment tax, Social Security and Medicare.

Here is the bottom line: Agricultural employers stand to lose as much as 75 percent of their current workforce if mandatory e-Verify laws are enacted without simultaneously enacting a guest-worker program. Crippling Florida’s agricultural industry should scare every Floridian, as Florida provides the lion’s share of our nation’s winter vegetables, Florida produces nearly 75 percent of all the indoor tropical foliage and houseplants sold within the U.S., and Florida is known the world over for its citrus production, both juice and fresh fruit. Losing domestic production of our food may prove to be one of the biggest national security and food safety threats in the nation’s history.

It is time to stop the rhetoric. It is time to get serious about immigration reform, and it is time to work on practical solutions -- not emotion-driven, economy-killing policies that truly cut off our noses to spite our faces!


Brewster Bevis
Vice President for External Relations, Associated Industries of Florida

Undoubtedly, our country’s immigration system is broken. To truly fix the problems, they must be addressed at the federal level and in a comprehensive manner. However, due to the inaction of Washington, D.C., an increasing number of states have attempted to implement their own “fixes” in a piecemeal approach.

It seems the first, and almost knee-jerk reaction, by states is to immediately attempt to mandate the current voluntary, federal e-Verify system on businesses. This is the wrong reaction and here are just a few of the reasons why.

Despite recent strides to correct several of the issues with the system, e-Verify remains flawed, error-prone and costly. A 2009 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security showed 54 percent of unauthorized workers are approved by e-Verify. This is an unacceptably high error rate. In addition, despite the system being free of charge for employers to use, it still costs the employer money in time and resources to have their HR departments, or related staff, run new hires through the system.

A Bloomberg News report released last year showed that in 2010 alone American employers spent an estimated $95 million using the “free” e-Verify system. Unfortunately, small businesses that are less equipped and often lack a dedicated HR department bear the brunt of these costs. The Bloomberg report indicated that small businesses with less than 500 employees spent approximately $127 per employee query in 2008, and that number is projected to grow with each passing year.

In addition to the costs for queries, mandating e-Verify could force ultra-small businesses to go out and purchase computers and high-speed Internet access. Surprising as it may sound, there are still some business owners out there who do not have these business items that most of us take for granted. Unfortunately, the current e-Verify system looks at all businesses as if they are identical, whether that be a Fortune 100 company located in New York City, or a one-man masonry contractor in Perry, Florida.

Moreover, it is crucial that we avoid the creation of a patchwork quilt of immigration laws that vary from state to state and municipality to municipality. This patchwork quilt scenario creates yet another maze that employers who operate across state or local jurisdictions must navigate and will only serve to further suppress an already fragile economy.

Focusing only on enforcement of immigration laws through the flawed e-Verify system is myopic. When tackling this issue, we must take into consideration the future workforce flow and current labor needs of our businesses.

When Florida’s businesses, especially small businesses, are desperately trying to claw their way out of these tough economic times, the last thing they need is to be shouldered with yet another costly and error-prone government mandate.

Janet Renner
Member of board and chairman, Floridians for Immigration Enforcement

In 2008, Arizona became the first state requiring all employers to confirm workers' legal status using e-Verify. Shortly afterward, Kris Kobach, now Kansas secretary of state, wrote an article, "The Immigration Answer," stating that "attrition through enforcement works," based on the massive self-deportations of illegal aliens from Arizona. Today, e-Verify is still the answer to our illegal immigration problem.

E-Verify effectively breaks the job magnet that pulls illegal aliens to come here in the first place by reducing their chances of getting jobs while increasing the possibility of detection. No round-ups or amnesty are needed -- just e-Verify, a rational way to curb illegal immigration.

E-Verify is a free federal program that's easy to use, highly accurate (up to 99.5 percent), with super-fast confirmations. And contrary to myths, an e-Verify non-confirmation doesn't mean instant deportation or loss of employment; it allows people to contact the Social Security Administration or the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service to correct any mistakes in their records. The beauty of e-Verify is that illegal aliens fear detection so they need not apply.

E-Verify is becoming highly effective in 15 states. Why not more, why not in Florida, why not in all 50? Simply put, elected officials have cowardly buried their heads in the sand for want of power and a buck. Additionally, they refuse to face reality that illegal immigration affects every aspect of our lives -- educationally, economically, environmentally, medically, culturally, and socially to the tune of billions of dollars per state per year. The worst part is that we, the American people, are forced to pay high taxes, which inevitably go to support millions of illegal aliens.

Illegal immigration costs Florida approximately $4 billion annually and more than a million Floridians are unemployed. Isn't it time to make e-Verify mandatory in Florida? It's time to ask your state legislators two simple questions. First, do you want to give a job to an illegal alien or to an American or legal worker and, secondly, will you vote "Yes" for e-Verify? They can fudge on the first question, to be sure, but if they won't e-Verify loud and clear, then throw the bums out and replace them with someone who bleeds red, white, and blue, instead of yellow.

Carol Dover
President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association

We have many members who use e-Verify and we have many members who are still concerned about the effectiveness of the system. Hoteliers and restaurateurs have expressed concern that the system is not accurate and that it is cumbersome and costly for their businesses to operate. We do understand that many of the concerns with e-Verify are being addressed.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has not taken an official position on this issue. However, we continue to monitor state and federal legislation as it relates to e-Verify and its impact on the hospitality industry.


Comment on this Roundtable Using Facebook

by Dr. Radut.