My Word: Leave immigration reform to the feds
Orlando Sentinel – December 18, 2011
If potential harm to our shaky economy isn’t enough to give them pause, Florida lawmakers considering immigration reform need only look at the mess in Alabama to see the negative consequences overzealous, enforcement-focused policies can have. State legislators chose not to rush on this issue last session, and recent events in our neighboring state show they were wise in this decision.
Alabama, which passed one of the nation’s toughest immigration-enforcement bills, has found itself in international headlines after embarrassing incidents involving two foreign executives working for two of its largest employers, Mercedes-Benz and Honda. Both were charged in the enforcement crackdown under the new law for not carrying proper documentation.
The state’s Republican leadership has quickly reversed course, calling for repeal of key provisions of the law. But the damage has already been done to a state that has long fought to reverse a reputation as intolerant.
Florida dwarfs Alabama in terms of foreign business interests. Florida enjoyed 82.3 million visitors in 2010, 11.1 million from foreign countries. As the “Gateway to the Americas,” the state is a leader in international trade with about $103 billion in merchandise flowing through our airports and seaports each year. Florida also hosts some 300 regional headquarters of companies from all over the world and maintains 20 Foreign Trade Zones, the second-largest network in the country.
An aggressive enforcement-focused immigration law could produce an immediate chilling effect on state trade, tourism and business. Florida should continue to proceed with caution on this issue and not allow it to detract from more important issues, such as strengthening our state’s economy.
Meanwhile, since Alabama put its new law in place, overall unemployment has remained essentially unchanged; however, agriculture businesses report growing labor shortages that could reach a crisis point in the spring when new crops need to be harvested.
Most of us recognize that our immigration system is broken and in need of repair. But to meaningfully address this complex issue, we need a sensible and balanced approach, not politically expedient hardball policies that would hurt Florida’s economy.
This issue is best addressed at the federal level, and the tough Arizona law that Alabama and other states copied will soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s time for a common-sense national approach that certainly includes enforcement but balances it with other aspects of this complicated issue.
Joe Kefauver of Orlando is executive director of Immigration Works Florida.