Local political party has yet to officially support mandatory E-Verify program

The Republican executive committees in 27 Florida counties, including Santa Rosa, Walton and Escambia, support legislation that would make the federal E-Verify employment eligibility system mandatory statewide.


And soon, the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee will issue its support, Committee Chairman Jeff Hinkle said Thursday.


The web-based E-Verify system became available in 1996. It allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.


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The Republican Party of Florida recently praised the executive committees that have adopted the party’s E-Verify resolution, which supports making the system mandatory statewide. Taking that step is a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis.


"Your votes clearly demonstrate the importance of adhering to the rule of law," state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "We live in a nation of laws and illegal immigration undermines those laws, threatens public safety and undercuts wages for Florida workers who are trying to make a living."


Hinkle said Okaloosa’s Republican Executive Committee will adopt the E-Verify resolution at its next quarterly meeting in late April.


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If E-Verify is not mandated statewide, Hinkle said, "Many people won’t use it and will cheat because there are some companies and people who will use illegal labor to basically get away with A, taking advantage of those (illegal immigrants) . . . and B, just basically pushing wage rates down for our working-class people that are born and live here and have to make it here. It’s just not fair to them."


Also, "Our immigration labor laws overall, I think, are far too complex and expensive to navigate through," he said. "So we need to have some reform there as well."


Currently, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah require all or most businesses in their respective states to use E-Verify.


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In Florida, state agencies under the direction of the governor are required to use E-Verify. And as of Dec. 31, 2019, almost 57,000 businesses in Florida were voluntarily enrolled in E-Verify, according to information from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.


On Thursday, Okaloosa County Commission Chairman Trey Goodwin responded to a question from the Daily News about the potential impact of a mandatory E-Verify system on the local tourism industry.


"I think our tourism industry has a lot of things that we’re working on with our tourism partners to try to better our destination that do not necessarily have anything to do with E-Verify or the need for illegal immigrant workers or something of that nature," Goodwin said. "We’ve got bigger problems that we need to deal with for our tourism industry, such as getting our citizens who work down in Destin and Fort Walton Beach and even into South Walton who must use the Mid-Bay Bridge, figuring out a way that they don’t have to incur those expensive tolls that really put a hurting on them."


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Nathan Sparks, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, also shared one of his views about the possible mandatory E-Verify system.


"Given the considerable technical skills, certifications (and in many cases, security clearances) that the aerospace, technology, defense and manufacturing sectors that the EDC tends to focus on require, I don’t anticipate that compliance with E-Verify would be an issue for our target clients, given the nature of their already highly regulated businesses," Sparks said in an email.