As the U.S. Supreme Court debates the Arizona law destined to make life miserable for brown-skinned people, advocates on both sides of the immigration-reform issue are freaking out. Senate Bill 1070 requires Arizona cops to detain immigrants they suspect are in the country illegally and check their status. Not carrying immigration papers in public would be a state crime. If the highest court in the land says this is constitutional, won't cops in the Sun-Baked State start doing the same thing?
No, probably not. Florida is crazy but not entirely stupid. Take state Sen. JD Alexander, the Republican budget committee chairman who last year voted against Florida's proposed anti-illegal immigrant bill, which never passed the state House. Alexander happens to be a citrus grower, and big growers do not want to lose their workforce of cheap, often-illegal labor. As he told the Miami Herald last May, "I probably know more about the reality of these issues than anybody else on the floor."
Yes, Alexander knows an immigrant crackdown would hurt his pocketbook. It would also hurt the campaign coffers of all GOP lawmakers who rely on Big Agriculture to support them. Plus, in this presidential election year, Florida Republicans are looking to court Hispanic voters. Mass arrests of brown-skinned people would not help their cause.
Even Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned for office promising an Arizona-style illegal immigrant crackdown, hasn't pushed hard to get a bill passed in the past two years. When questioned recently by the Orlando Sentinel, Scott instead talked about supporting a guest worker program for immigrants. Such a throwback to the Bracero era creates a whole new set of concerns for workers seeking a living wage, but it's better than forcing everyone with an accent to show their papers.
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Could it be that Florida's elected officials are slightly more sane than Arizona's? Only time will tell.