Joe Gruters Wants to Check the Immigration Status of Every New Employee in Florida

State Sen. Joe Gruters is cosponsoring a bill that would require all businesses to check the immigration status of new employees.
State Sen. Joe Gruters is cosponsoring a bill that would require all businesses to check the immigration status of new employees. Photo via Florida House of Representatives
State Sen. Joe Gruters — a man who wants to protect hate speech online and has a racist poster hanging in his government office — just can't stop himself. After pushing through a ban on so-called sanctuary cities earlier this year, Gruters vowed to introduce even more anti-immigrant legislation during the upcoming legislative session. Now, the leader of Florida's GOP wants to check the immigration status of every new employee in the state.

Gruters is the cosponsor of SB 664, a new bill filed yesterday by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee. It would require all businesses in Florida to use E-Verify to check the immigration status of new employees. E-Verify is a federal electronic program that compares the information provided on I-9 tax forms with the databases of the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration.

Florida businesses that don't comply with SB 664 would risk substantial fines and potential suspension or revocation of their business licenses. The bill would also allow Floridians to file complaints with the state Department of Economic Opportunity if they suspect a business might have employed an undocumented immigrant within the last 90 days.

There are a lot of issues with E-Verify. SB 664 would mandate that the Department of Economic Opportunity alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the identities of undocumented immigrants — an obvious concern for the estimated 656,000 undocumented immigrants living in Florida.

And it's not just immigrants who could be affected. Because E-Verify is notoriously riddled with problems, U.S. citizens can also expect harassment. The system can't catch falsified or stolen information, is built from error-prone government databases, and has far less than a 100 percent success rate. Floridians could lose their jobs if E-Verify were to identify someone incorrectly, which has happened before.

"Rampant data errors will hurt ordinary people," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote in a 2013 paper on the employment verification system. The ACLU then listed nine additional reasons why E-Verify is problematic, including its discriminatory effects, due process concerns, and privacy threats. Plus, E-Verify is a hacker's dream — it basically creates a giant government database of names, birthdays, Social Security numbers, contact information, and sometimes even photos.

E-Verify is also extremely expensive. More than 60 state business leaders have already signed an open letter opposing E-Verify because "it will devastate our economy." That's a fitting statement for a bill from Gruters, who has a penchant for hurting Florida's economy with his childish antics. Gruters' anti-sanctuary-city bill — an idea originally pitched by an extremist anti-immigrant group and ultimately signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis — could cost the state billions of dollars every year, according to an analysis by New American Economy, a centrist think tank. Currently, the state is facing a federal lawsuit spearheaded by the City of South Miami and civil rights groups hoping to strike down the statute.

Should SB 664 become law, every Florida business will need to check the documentation of new employees beginning January 1, 2021. 
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Jess Nelson is the 2019 writing fellow for Miami New Times. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is excited to be living close to the water again after moving to Miami from New York. She studied history at UC Berkeley and investigative journalism at Columbia University.
Contact: Jess Nelson