Governor takes aim at illegal immigration

Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, announces his office’s ongoing support of E-Verify while flanked by Vickie Schermock Lyon, left, and Robert and Kiyan Michael on Monday at Fenney Recreation Center.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is stepping up his fight against illegal immigration in Florida. DeSantis is urging the legislature to require that businesses use the federal E-Verify system to check the immigration status of new hires. Currently, businesses seeking cheap labor can hire employees without making them prove they are U.S. citizens or immigrants in the country legally. During a visit to The Villages on Monday, DeSantis said he wants a law to end that in the next legislative session, which begins in January. Job opportunities are a “magnet” for illegal immigration, DeSantis said at Fenney Recreation Center. “I support things like a wall, but really, the number one reason I think that you see a flow is because of (the chance for jobs).”  The online E-Verify system lets employers check employees’ employment eligibility against records available to the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration, according to its website.

Requiring E-Verify would remove an incentive for hiring those not in the state legally for lower wages, tightening the labor market and potentially paving the way for better pay for those jobs, the governor said.

He said this is the next step after the passage of a law earlier this year banning sanctuary cities. That law prohibits state and local agencies from having policies that restrict local law enforcement’s ability to communicate with federal immigration agencies.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and state Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, sponsored legislation concerning sanctuary cities and are working on E-Verify. They joined DeSantis in The Villages to share their support.

“What this is doing is saying to the citizens of Florida, ‘You’re not going to have to compete with illegal labor,’” Byrd said.

As with the sanctuary city ban, this measure targets illegal immigration, not legal immigration, said Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota. 

A bill that would require employers to register with and use E-Verify has already been filed by state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotossassa, with Gruters as co-sponsor. 

Robert and Kiyan Michael and Vickie Schermock Lyon joined lawmakers to share their personal support for E-Verify legislation.

The Michaels’ son, Brandon Michael, and Lyon’s daughter, Nikki Schermock, both died in car crashes in Florida caused by people who were in the country illegally.

“The worst part is this was 100% preventable,” said Kiyan Michael, of Jacksonville.

The mothers’ stories touched Peter Lilly as he listened in the audience.

“I have three children and five grandchildren. I don’t know how I would feel if something happened to them,” the Village of Liberty Park resident said. “I saw a lot of people with tears in their eyes.”

Lilly said he immigrated legally from Canada more than 20 years ago, and he supports efforts like E-Verify to enforce legal immigration.

From an economic standpoint, Sumter County Commissioner Don Burgess said, a state E-Verify requirement would benefit workers in fast-growing counties.

E-Verify already is required in Sumter, County Administrator Bradley Arnold said. Statewide enforcement would ensure vendors wanting to come in from other counties to do business would understand the rules, he said.

“When you have local governments, some, like ours, have the E-Verify, some don’t. It does create an imbalance in regard for what the expectations are in regard to vendors,” Arnold said. “With the state looking to make that across the board, it would not have an adverse impact on Sumter County since we’re already requiring it.”

Sumter County Commissioner Steve Printz called the practice common sense.

“It’s hard to believe in this day and age that states aren’t taking advantage of the technology that’s out there,” he said. “It should be an easy putt. It probably won’t be, but it should be.”

Tony Garcia, a resident of the Village of Mallory Square who attended the news conference, agreed the legislation should be passed, saying legal immigration has always been an important issue for him.

Garcia immigrated to America from Cuba at 12 years old.

He and his 14-year-old sister stayed with a foster family until their mother could legally join them a year later. Their father came the following year.

“It was a lot of hardship, but we went through it, we lived through it, and we thank America for it,” Garcia said. “They call it the land of opportunity, and it is the land of opportunity.”

If the Legislature passes an E-Verify bill, DeSantis said he might return to The Villages to sign it into law.

Senior writer Ciara Varone can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5395, or ciara.varone@thevillagesmedia.com.