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Florida Anti-Immigrant Group Lobbies To Introduce Legislation Attacking Immigrants

Anti-immigrant group Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN) lobbied legislators in Florida to introduce legislation mandating E-Verify and banning sanctuary measures.

State Senator Aaron Bean filed SB 164, which requires employers to register and use E-Verify, a costly and at times inaccurate employment verification system, and SB 170, which prohibits sanctuary policy, on Dec. 18 and 19, 2018.

FLIMEN has been affiliated with anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). In 2010, FLIMEN’s site indicated then-president, Janet Renner, and vice president, David Caulkett, serve as “Florida state advisors” for FAIR. That same year, FAIR listed FLIMEN on its page under “Join a Local Immigration Reform Group.” In October 2010, then-FAIR spokesperson Kristen Williamson told the Florida Independent, “We have worked with [Caulkett] before. We do have people called state advisers, but they are volunteers.”

In November 2018, FAIR President Dan Stein hosted Caulkett on FAIR’s podcast to discuss former legislative director Jack Oliver and legislation in Florida. Caulkett said, “For over ten years, Jack has worked with politicians and citizens and FAIR” to get E-Verify enacted. “We are in the best position ever this legislative session to get E-Verify enacted.” As of February 2019, Caulkett is listed as a “Florida State Advisor for FAIR” on FLIMEN’s site.

Hatewatch filed multiple FOIA requests to the offices of Florida State Rep. Thad Altman and Florida State Sen. Aaron Bean to investigate the origins of these bills. We discovered several threads of communication with FLIMEN.

On Dec. 13, 2016, Jack Oliver, legislative director for FLIMEN until his passing late last year, emailed Bean’s office. “Floridians for Immigration Enforcement is seeking sponsorship for our mandatory E-Verify bill and our anti-sanctuary city bill,” Oliver wrote. “I know you have taken a stand for the citizens of Florida on immigration issues in the past and hope that you will take a stand this legislative session by being a sponsor for these important bills.” He attached model legislation for both bills.

One month later, Caulkett, the vice president and founder of FLIMEN, left a voicemail for Bean. Bean’s aide detailed the content of the voicemail in an email. The aide said the message was “asking the Senator to sponsor their e-verify bill which they have already written. They currently have a House sponsor but need a Senate sponsor.”

On Jan. 25, 2017, Caulkett left another voicemail for Bean’s office. He explained that the companion E-Verify bill in the House, HB 443, was sponsored by then-Rep. Joe Gruters. “Thank you for saving a slot, really really appreciate it,” Caulkett said.

Pushing E-Verify measures has been a longtime goal of the anti-immigrant movement despite its many problems. In April 2018, Bob Dane, executive director of FAIR, wrote an article in support of FLIMEN’s efforts. “Frustrated with politicians whose campaign pledges evaporate in office, Floridians for Immigration Enforcement and allied groups are on the verge of getting an employment-verification proposition on the November ballot.” FLIMENS’s efforts to get an E-Verify measure on the ballot this past November were rejected by the state Constitution Review Commission.

Sen. Bean filed SB 164 to mandate E-Verify shortly after Rep. Thad Altman filed its companion bill in the House, HB 89, in December 2018. He told Florida Politics:I have talked to the Governor. He was very positive and interested. It is the first time filing it for me, other versions were filed in the past.”

According to a Dec. 21 FAIR article on E-Verify and anti-sanctuary bills in Florida, SB 164 “mirrors Altman’s bill.” In fact, Rep. Altman’s legislative assistant wrote to him on Dec. 12, 2018, “David Caulkett would like an open discussion to combine forces on E-Verify,” listing Caulkett’s affiliation with several organizations: “Florida for Immigration Enforcement; Floridians Reverify Now; FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform).”

The same month, Gruters and Bean filed anti-sanctuary bills in the state Senate that closely aligned with model legislation sent by FLIMEN in December 2016. FAIR, in the same article on anti-immigrant legislation in Florida: wrote, “The bills are identical. … Sen. Bean sponsored SB 308 in the Senate last year to do the same thing. Sen. Gruters is a longstanding supporter of Governor-Elect DeSantis.”

Banning sanctuary policies is an ongoing priority for the anti-immigrant movement, and FAIR has taken a lead role in this effort. In 2018, the organization attacked sanctuary measures in at least six states, both deploying its own employees and funding local anti-immigrant groups to repeal sanctuary policies. In Oregon, for example, FAIR and FAIR’s legal arm, Immigration Reform Law Institute, spent more than $150,000 on a campaign to repeal the state’s sanctuary policy. Local opposition to the policy was spearheaded by the hate group Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR).

Both bills have multiple paragraphs that are almost identical and follow the structure outlined by model legislation sent by FLIMEN.

SB 164 and SB 170 have been referred to committee. Gruters’ bill, SB 168, an identical anti-sanctuary bill to Bean’s SB 170, will be discussed at the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Feb. 11.

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