Business and faith leaders press legislature to abandon immigration legislation

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On the eve of Florida state legislature hearings on controversial immigration legislation, prominent Florida business and faith leaders gathered on a national telephonic press call to urge the Florida legislature to drop the economically disastrous legislation. Similar immigration enforcement bills have been considered in 22 states, but Florida is one of the six remaining states where these types of measures are gaining ground through legislatures. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and Florida Evangelical leader Pastor Joel C. Hunter have been urging state leaders to abandon attempts to pass overly restrictive immigration measures. Both measures under consideration in the Florida legislature, S.B. 2040 and H.B 7089 would be crippling for at least two of Florida? leading economic sectors: tourism and agriculture.

A cursory look at the economic effect to the tourism industry of anti-immigration legislation in Arizona reveals the potentially vast negative economic consequences of a similar law in Florida. Similar to Arizona, the state? economy is heavily dependent on tourism and conventions. Arizona? controversial immigration law has already caused a total loss of $217 million in direct spending by convention attendees, along with an additional $535.4 million in lost tax revenues, economic output, and earnings. With a larger tourism industry, the negative effects of a law viewed as anti-immigrant could be even more devastating for Florida.

?lorida is unique, we are not Arizona,?said Adam Babington, Vice President of Government Affairs at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. ?ur economy is uniquely dependent on foreign visitors, trade and immigrant workers. The last thing our state needs is a debate that will scare away tourists and international investment that does not help to create jobs in our state but instead creates a climate of fear,?he added.

The Florida Chamber highlighted their recent study by the Florida Chamber Foundation showing that immigrant workers in Florida contribute an average of $4.5 billion in tax revenues a year. Babington continued, ?ourists spend $7 billion dollars every year in Florida and foreign direct investment to Florida exceeds $34 billion. Our state? hospitality and attractions are known world worldwide, and we have welcomed visitors from everywhere. But legislation like S.B. 2040 and H.B 7089 would damage our international reputation as a welcoming destination for tourists, and destroy our image as a business and family-friendly state. We don? a state policy addressing immigration, we need a national policy.?

Florida businesses are opposed to overly harsh immigration measures because they would also place undue burdens on Florida businesses, effectively turn them into federal immigration agents. Additionally, they?e worried they won? have the resources to put all employees through the federal E-verify system. ?ssociated Industries of Florida does not believe that mandating burdensome Federal programs on Florida? businesses, in the form of the flawed and error prone E-Verify system, is what the state? employers need in these tough economic times,?said Brewster Bevis, Vice President of External Affairs at Associated Industries of Florida.

The Florida agricultural industry, heavily dependent on immigrant labor, would also suffer under the legislation. ?e already have an enormous labor shortage in the Florida agriculture industry,?said Michael Carlton, Director of Labor Relations of the Florida Fruit and Vegetables Association. ?aws like these will put several growers out of business, and drive even more workers into hiding and off the tax rolls. It will send Florida agricultural businesses out of state ?and the hundreds of thousands of jobs that are farm dependent ?with them. Instead of these job-killing state-based temporary fixes, we need serious, federal immigration reform that provides a legal workforce.?

Florida faith leaders echoed concerns about the negative message this bill would send. ?e are told in the Bible to welcome the stranger and acknowledge the human dignity of all of our brothers and sisters. We should be able to reach out to our neighbors with compassion, and be welcoming to everyone. These laws would threaten the justice and love we owe all of God? children by making it a crime to be present in the state without documentation,?said Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Senior Pastor who leads the 12000-member Northland church near Orlando, FL.

?here is a better way forward,?said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum in a prepared statement. ?nstead of creating a patchwork system of state-based immigration laws, the federal government should act immediately to reform our broken immigration system. We need reform at a national level to create a stable and reliable workforce that respects the rule of law, and meets our 21st century economic needs. Our broken immigration system and Congress? ongoing failure to fix it has put states like Florida in an awkward position. It? time that Congress solved this crisis for Florida, and for the American people, once and for all.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.