E-Verify bill filed amid resurgence of immigration debate


Gov. Ron DeSantis says 70% of immigrants who recently entered the country illegally hope to reach Florida.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini is hoping Florida revisits its laws on the use of E-Verify, a federal electronic system to check the immigration status of new workers.

Whether to require businesses – and which businesses – to use E-Verify when making new hires became a central legislative battle during the 2020 Session. Ultimately, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a watered-down version of the proposal he had named a priority during the 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

With a recent uptick in migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexican border and DeSantis’ move to send state law enforcement personnel to the border, illegal immigration is back in the national conversation. About 70% of immigrants intercepted by Florida personnel said they hoped to eventually reach Florida, DeSantis relayed during his own trip to the border on Saturday.

Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican, cited that statistic in a tweet Thursday announcing he filed a stronger E-Verify bill (HB 6001). Sabatini’s version would mandate that all businesses, not just public employers and their contractors, use E-Verify. The current requirements only apply to 1% of the workforce, he estimates.

“The thing that passed in 2020 wasn’t just ‘watered down’ — it was entirely fake,” Sabatini said in a statement to Florida Politics. “This is the single most important bill that we can pass considering the fact that 70% of the new illegal immigrants are coming straight to Florida once they cross the border.”

While last year’s measure expanded the use of E-Verify among employers, it fell short of DeSantis’ 2018 campaign promise.

The bill required all public employers – such as local school districts, public universities and state agencies as well as their private contractors –to use E-Verify, which is run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Private employers are not mandated to use the system unless they have a contract with a public employer or they apply for taxpayer-funded incentives through the state Department of Economic Opportunity. However, private businesses that do not use E-Verify are required to keep a three-year record of the documents employees use to complete “I-9” forms, which the federal government uses to verify workers’ identities and legal eligibility to work in the United States.

Given DeSantis’ 70% claim about migrants illegally destined for Florida, Sabatini estimates that translates to 80,000 immigrants per month.

Sabatini is running for a congressional seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. But first, he faces a four-way Republican Primary that’s tight, at least as far as finances go.

Nevertheless, Sabatini says filing the E-Verify bill isn’t a campaign move.

This is his fourth time filing it since his election to the House in 2018. For the 2019 and 2020 Sessions, he was a co-sponsor, including on the version that lawmakers eventually neutered before passing it. Since then, he has now filed the measure twice as its main sponsor.

Moreover, he campaigned on E-Verify in 2018.

“The appetite is stronger than ever before for the bill among voters – despite the permanent political class of Republican elected [representatives] that are bought and paid for by big business,” Sabatini said.

The bill would take effect on July 1, 2022.

Before the Legislative Session begins on Jan. 11, the House and Senate will hold six weeks of committee meetings beginning in September. That period gives lawmakers a head start on priority legislation.

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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