Calling illegal immigration a “major problem” in Florida, state Rep. Gayle Harrell today celebrated a series of bills that she and others said would make it tougher for employers to hire undocumented workers and push local law enforcement to help identify illegal immigration.
“We need to deal with the problem we are having in our community with illegals,” said Harrell, a Stuart Republican running for Congress this year.
“We’re now having a significant problem with our budget and we’re having to cut services to legal residents of the state,” she said. “And when we’re spending $1.8 billion on services to illegals in the state, we need to really look at what we can do to address the problem.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what Harrell used to determine the state’s cost to provide services to undocumented workers. Even Rep. Don Brown, one of the state’s most active lawmakers on immigration, acknowledged that such a figure would be based on anecdotes and circumstantial evidence.
“The much larger issue involved here is the sovereignty of our nation and the sovereignty of our state,” said Brown, R-DeFuniak Springs.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact that if an army were to invade our borders, we would consider it a declaration of war.”
Harrell and Brown proposed two of the six bills that a group of lawmakers were trumpeting on Tuesday. Harrell, who acknowledged an uphill battle for her bill in the legislature, said it was the first illegal immigration bill she has introduced since she was elected to the state House in 2000.
She did propose a controversial amendment last year that would have prevented the state from paying for health care services for children of illegal immigrants.
Her bill (HB 821), the “Florida Safe Borders Act of 2008,” would, among other things, prohibit the state from supporting day labor centers, such as El Sol in Jupiter, that could be helping illegal immigrants find work.
She was joined in her press conference by several Palm Beach County residents, including 79-year-old Charlie Elliott of Jupiter. Elliott said he has protested outside El Sol. Carol Diane, a 60-year-old Boca Raton resident, also traveled to the Capitol on Tuesday to lobby for immigration reform. She said it was the first political issue to inspire her action.
“As a mother, it tugs at your heartstrings to see the plight of people from around the world who want to come to America,” Diane said. “But now our security is at risk and we’re being affected not just economically, but in terms of the criminal element as well. It’s a scary time.”
Both Diane and Elliott said they were loosely associated with groups known as Border Control Now and Floridians for Immigration Enforcement.