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Florida businesses could be required to verify employees have legal work permits


In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis wants to crack down on businesses that hire undocumented workers. From member station WMFE in Orlando, Talia Blake reports that he signed a controversial immigration bill that some fear will hurt the state's economy.

TALIA BLAKE, BYLINE: Parts of the new law require all businesses in Florida with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify. That's the federal online system where employers can confirm whether someone is eligible to work in the U.S. Supporters of the law say it will help curb illegal immigration to Florida, but opponents say it will hurt the economy.

SAMUEL VILCHEZ SANTIAGO: This will impact our top revenue-creating businesses.

BLAKE: Samuel Vilchez Santiago is the Florida director of the American Businesses Immigration Coalition, which advocates for immigration reform that benefits businesses. He says new E-Verify rules will have a major effect on agriculture, hospitality and construction.

VILCHEZ SANTIAGO: These are industries where immigrants make up the vast majority of workers, and not allowing businesses to be able to utilize these workers will have a really big impact on our economy and their ability to create jobs.

BLAKE: The vast majority of Florida businesses have fewer than 25 employees, and the law does not apply to them. But Vilchez Santiago says those who need to use E-Verify, like large citrus farms or construction companies, may find it hard to hire new workers. He says that could affect their payroll, and consumers would feel the brunt.

VILCHEZ SANTIAGO: Because we will be the ones who will see prices of food, prices of rent, prices of housing go up in the middle of inflation crisis that is fueled by a significant labor shortage.

BLAKE: Florida follows states like Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi in expanding E-Verify requirements. But in those states, all led by Republicans, E-Verify compliance is rarely enforced, says Rollins College political scientist Julia Maskivker.

JULIA MASKIVKER: What we see with private employers and companies is that the government is not necessarily on their backs making sure that everyone is using it because the government may not have necessarily the time or the power to do this.

BLAKE: The Florida law does not say how the state will enforce E-Verify compliance, but it does say that businesses not using it could be fined up to $1,000 a day.

For NPR News, I'm Talia Blake in Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Talia Blake