UPDATE: MAY 11, 2023: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Wednesday an immigration reform bill that will require private employers to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm workers’ immigration status. The law goes into effect July 1.
In anticipation of the new requirement, which supporters say will protect jobs and strengthen national security, some employees have stopped showing up to work at businesses throughout the state, CBS Miami reported Wednesday.
Out of fear of deportation, workers in industries like construction and agriculture have already packed up with plans to move to other states with less strict immigration laws, according to CBS Miami.
- A Florida bill designed to halt the flow of illegal immigration via citizenship workplace verification is expected to be signed soon by Gov. Ron DeSantis after passing the Florida House last week. Senate Bill 1718 requires private employers with 25 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system when hiring workers to ensure their ability to legally work in the U.S.
- Under the legislation, many workers who were previously compliant with documentation standards will now face termination and employers that do not comply will face fines of $1,000 day until they comply.
- The measure, which would go into effect July 1 if signed by DeSantis, also permits random audits of employers suspected of hiring unauthorized immigrant workers.
Several other states already require E-Verify for private employers, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Arizona, Alabama and Utah. The federal platform was initially created for verifying public employees’ immigration status.
Under the current system in Florida, public contracts require that each worker has an E-Verify certificate, and subcontractors on those projects must provide the general contractor with a sworn statement confirming they don’t use unauthorized immigrant labor.
Private businesses in Florida can use E-Verify or I-9 documentation for their employees, but DeSantis has argued the latter makes enforcement challenging. That means the new law could greatly impact industries that currently rely on the I-9 system, according to Trent Cotney, partner and construction team leader for Tampa, Florida-based Adams and Reese LLP.
For many firms, it could also mean a new way of doing business in order to circumvent the 25-worker threshold, he said.
“I anticipate this law will result in further segmentation of the industry with smaller subcontractor labor groups falling under the 25-employee limit to avoid compliance with E-Verify,” said Cotney.
With this new legislation, Florida businesses must be vigilant in their hiring practices and ensure they are following the E-Verify requirements if they have 25 or more employees, said Cotney.
“Construction, in particular, faces a shortfall of workers as evidenced by the dramatic rise in the use of sub-labor,” he said.
Julia Maskivker, professor of political science at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, predicted the bill would have a negative economic impact on most businesses in the state.
“This legislation will likely have a detrimental effect on the economy here in [Florida], because it will make freedom of contract and freedom to labor harder to actually exercise — and this may have negative effects on consumer prices and on inflation consequently,” Maskivker told Construction Dive.
Widening the labor gap
Cotney called construction’s skilled labor gap the industry’s “biggest problem for more than a decade,” saying many employers have relied on immigrant workers under the current system.
DeSantis and others in Florida have championed E-Verify as a method of protecting jobs and increasing national security.
But Maskivker said the current state of immigration affairs is a “mess,” both on the federal and state level, and E-Verify isn’t a good solution. In addition, an aspect of the new legislation criminalizes the movement of unauthorized immigrants, meaning someone with undocumented immigrant parents who takes them to the hospital could be charged with a felony.
As laws get stricter, immigrant workers who benefit the economy through work and taxes will stop doing so, she said.
“What happens when laws get stricter about undocumented labor is that many of these workers may cease to pay taxes … prompted by fear of deportation,” Maskivker said. “Everybody loses when this happens, not just employers and not just workers.”