Paul J. DiMare, one of the country's leading producers of fresh tomatoes, is among a group of businessmen trying to stifle a Florida bill that would require private companies to verify each new hire's eligibility to work in the US through a screening process called E-Verify. DiMare says that could reduce the pool of candidates when his business faces a labor shortage of more than 30%.
"I think illegal immigration is one of the worst things that has happened to this country," he said. "But we don't have a good immigration policy. And what are we going to do to replace those people?"
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made the issue a priority, saying it would remove an incentive for people to come illegally. The state Senate Judicial Committee approved a watered down version of the proposal Tuesday. It exempts agriculture employers and companies that have fewer than 150 employees, but otherwise requires companies use E-Verify.
Sen. President Bill Galvano has been skeptical about a law that would require all employers use E-Verify because it would create a burden for employers in Florida's vital agriculture, tourism and construction sectors. Similar measures have failed in the past.
More than 54,000 employers in Florida are currently enrolled in the E-Verify database, federal government records show. That list includes local and state agencies, which have been required to use the database since 2011. U.S. Census Bureau data shows Florida had more than 480,000 establishments with employees in 2016.