TALLAHASSEE (CBS4)-Florida legislators adjourned Saturday without an agreement on a tough immigration bill sought by the governor and attorney general to crack down on illegal immigration.

The House refused to agree with a watered-down Senate version that was passed earlier in the week.

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“We cannot continue to allow immigration to be used as a political wedge issue,” said Jorge Mursuli, president of the Latino group Democracia USA, which opposed both versions. “If they are interested in finding real solutions to the immigration issue they should join efforts to support our federal government and our nationally elected leadership to pass comprehensive reform.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi both favor stronger immigration laws similar to one in Arizona, although tourism officials and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam cautioned that a similar measure could damage those industries.

The Senate bill doesn’t contain a requirement that employers check new hires against a federal database. Scott signed an executive order in January ordering state agencies to use E-Verify to determine if current or prospective employees are legal.

The House bill also gives wider leeway to law enforcement officers in questioning individuals about their immigration status.

Mursuli took credit Friday for apparently helping to derail a final compromise. His group, along with the pro-immigrant Washington-based America’s Voice Education Fund, targeted Florida Sen. Anitere Flores in the final weeks of the legislation, accusing her in Spanish-language radio ads of betraying the Hispanic community.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos had tapped Flores, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of only three Hispanic GOP senators, to carry the bill. But under relentless pressure from Democracia and with little public support from the Senate leadership, she handed off the task.

“Prior to our ads, the thinking was this is a done deal,” Mursuli said. “The bill was barreling through the Legislature.”

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Hundreds of immigrants and their supporters also flooded the Legislature to oppose the bill, and many business leaders also lobbied against it behind the scenes.

Haridopolos then tapped Sen. JD Alexander, chairman of the Budget Committee, to press ahead with the bill, saying he hoped Alexander would push for a mandatory E-Verify requirement to match that of the House bill.

But Joyce Tarnow of Floridians for a Sustainable Population called the selection of Alexander to push for E-Verify disingenuous, since Alexander is a leader in the agriculture industry, which generally opposes the program.

“Haridopolos absolutely, totally let us down,” she said, adding, “Haridopolos was trying to play both ends against the middle. He got elected with the help from the tea party people, and they’re going to work really hard to make sure he’s not elected” to the U.S. Senate.

Tarnow vowed her organization and others would now turn their efforts toward passing a federal law to make the E-verify program mandatory.

 

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