As Republicans in the Florida Legislature move to implement Arizona-style immigration laws, they need to stop and listen to the practicality and sanity from a member of their own party: Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Adam H. Putnam, a conservative Republican and a member of the state Cabinet.
Republicans are trying to pass two anti-immigration bills, HB 7089 and SB 2040, primarily aimed at Hispanics. The House bill would require police to check the immigration status of a person under criminal investigation if there is "reasonable suspicion" the person might be undocumented. The Senate bill requires police to check the status of inmates and identify those eligible to be deported. Each bill requires employers to check the immigration status of their workers. Although the Senate version is less rigid, business and immigration advocates oppose it.
Putnam, a former state legislator who also spent a decade in Congress, opposes both bills. As a fifth-generation citrus grower and rancher in Polk County and as head of Florida agriculture and consumer services, a multimillion-dollar industry responsible for more than 400,000 jobs, Putnam is a genuine stakeholder in whatever happens with immigration reform.
Because of his credibility, Putnam's concerns about enacting draconian laws in the Sunshine State should not be dismissed or discounted.
"Florida is the capital of the Western Hemisphere," he said a few weeks ago. "We're a destination for investment capital, international tourists, international research and development and from Latin America in particular. We have to be very careful about how we approach this issue."
Putnam argues that Arizona-style laws, which are being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice, will hurt Florida. "What Arizona did in Arizona is necessarily different than what Florida should do," he said. "They are a border state. And they were attempting to solve problems that are unique to a border state."
Although immigration laws should be overhauled, Putnam said, the overhauling should be done at the federal level, not in individual states and counties. After all, Congress alone has the authority to work with foreign nations on issues involving visas and travel across borders. As a member of Congress, Putnam tried to get his colleagues in Washington to approach immigration comprehensively. Now that he is back in Florida, he is trying to persuade Tallahassee lawmakers to earnestly analyze the negative economic impact of Arizona-style legislation before acting.
Again, Putnam is not a liberal Democrat who is trying to hand over the state to undocumented workers.
Evidence shows that copycat Arizona laws have cost states millions of dollars to implement, and these laws have cost states millions in lost tourism and convention bookings. By one estimate, Arizona lost as much as $140 million as a result of canceled conventions and boycotts.
As far as I can tell, HB 7089 and SB 2040 are anti-Hispanic, which means that they will target most farmworkers. If passed, these bills will bring dangerous racial profiling that will lead to disrupted lives, fear and personal humiliation.
I am certain that Putnam is aware of this ugly side of what is going on in Tallahassee. Coming from a family of ranchers and growers, he is familiar with the handy misconception that migrant workers take jobs from able-bodied Americans eager to stoop and pick and lug for about $8 per hour -- without benefits -- in all weather conditions.
In an attempt to put this misconception to rest, the United Farm Workers union has challenged unemployed Americans to sign up for farm work through a campaign called "Take Our Jobs." The website is www.takeourjobs.org. Not surprisingly, few able-bodied unemployed Americans have signed up for backbreaking farm work.
Still, according to a recent poll, 51 percent of Florida voters, mostly whites, said they want the state to adopt an immigration policy similar to Arizona's. And GOP lawmakers seem eager to give voters what they want.
Putnam has warned that such a policy would drive away seasoned farm hands and create unintended consequences. With time running out for this legislative session, immigration advocates are hoping Republicans will heed Putnam's warnings and follow his advice.
Bill Maxwell is a columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.