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Rollins Professor says E-Verify expansion could have a chilling effect

Kirsten Strough
Migrant workers weed a field.

An immigration bill moving through the Florida House and Senate will require all businesses in the state with 25 or more employees to use E-Verify, which is the federal online system where employers can confirm whether prospective employees are eligible to work in the U.S.

Supporters of the bill, like Gov. Ron DeSantis, say this bill will help curb illegal immigration.

Julia Maskivker is a professor of political science at Rollins College.

She talked with me about how this bill could impact businesses here.

Listen to the full conversation in the player above.

Julia Maskivker is a professor of political science at Rollins College.
Julia Maskivker
Rollins College
Julia Maskivker is a professor of political science at Rollins College.

Talia Blake: How will HB 1617 impact businesses here in Central Florida, if it becomes law?

Julia Maskivker: What we have now is that only public employers have to go through this process, not private employers or companies. This law will make this requirement for everyone. This is causing some concern among the business community because Florida has a large immigrant population and many businesses rely on this population, undocumented or not. So there's concern that a lot of employers may employ or hire people outside of the tax system, perhaps in the black economy, which will cause payroll taxes to significantly decrease, for example. These taxes are important to fund things like social security, other social programs of many sorts, public education and other sorts of things that are important for a well functioning society. So this is the main concern that the business community is expressing, the fact that it will be harder to hire people that are necessary for the economy of Florida to continue to flourish. We have sectors like the agricultural, hospitality, (and) construction that rely heavily on immigrant workers. So, this is causing grave concern in those areas.

Talia Blake: It's been about three years since DeSantis, first signed E-Verify into law, which requires public employers and companies that contract with the state to use it. As lawmakers consider expanding this requirement to some private business, is there any evidence showing the impact of E-Verify on our economy so far?

Julia Maskivker: There's evidence from other states that have made this system or requirements across the economy. Many southern states like Alabama, Mississippi, and others, have already made this internet based system obligatory for all employers across the economy, private and public. And there is little evidence, the research is just beginning. But there is some evidence that this has a negative or deleterious effect on taxes, collection of taxes, on wages, and on the capacity of private employers to recruit productive workers willing to do jobs, for example, that maybe Americans may not be willing to do to the same extent, and that are important for the economy to keep functioning in a healthy way. Since the Florida economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, tourism, and hospitality, many of the workers that participate in this activities are immigrant, not necessarily all undocumented. So, what is wearing the the business lobby, and also consumers, is that the inability to freely hire, the most productive, or the most sort of fitting people for the job will have repercussions on many things, like taxes, the prices of things, food, hotel rates of transportation services, construction supplies, all kinds of things. And we already live in a world in which inflation is a worry for many of us, so this would not necessarily help in that regard.

Talia Blake: I want to touch on something you just talked about, which I feel like is getting a little bit missed from the conversation, which is how this change in E-Verify could trickle down in our economy. This isn't just about the employers and the employees. This could also impact consumers because if we have less workers in say, for example, agriculture, that could impact food costs. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?

Julia Maskivker: When it's hard to hire, the price of labor may go up, and that may entail that the price of goods may go up too. This has an impact on everyone across the board, not just employers, not just workers but consumers. We go to the supermarket and the oranges that were generally picked by immigrants may be more expensive now because the fact that free labor is no longer a variable means that it's harder to hire people to do these jobs, which may mean that the price of labor wages may go up.

Talia Blake: How many immigrant workers are here in central Florida right now?

Julia Maskivker: Florida overall is one of the states with the highest percentage of an immigrant population. As of now in Florida, one in five people are immigrants, and one out of nine have an immigrant parent. So roughly 20% of the population is foreign born, not necessarily undocumented. It is calculated, in Florida roughly almost 900,000 to little bit less than a million are undocumented workers.

Talia Blake: What are the consequences if businesses don't comply with E-Verify if it becomes law?

Julia Maskivker: In the states in which this requirement is already universal, it's not widely enforced, it's a requirement. But what we see with private employers and companies is that the government is not necessarily on their backs, making sure that that everyone is using it because I guess this is a massive enterprise and the government may not have necessarily the time or the power to do this. But the fact is that it's not clear that once that requirement is in place, it will be enforced, that is that government or state agencies will be checking that people are using it. As of now, the punishment will be severe economic penalties that they might have to pay the state. This is terrifying for employers, particularly if they're not that big, or powerful financially speaking. So, just the fact that this may be made a requirement, even if we know that it's not enforceable all the time, may have a chilling effect. People may be unwilling to hire because they don't want to pay fines if they're found to violate the law.

Talia Blake: I hear you saying that even other states that already have this requirement in place, when it comes to enforcement, it can be a little tricky, a little bit gray area all over the place. So sometimes, even if businesses are complying with it, it's not really like they're being checked up upon. I know you're saying that just the fact that this law is in place can have a chilling effect, but it almost also sounds like businesses shouldn't be too worried because the enforcement of it is going to take some time to flush out.

Julia Maskivker: Yeah I mean, you're totally correct. This is a numbers game. For example, we know that the IRS may not necessarily discover everyone who is not paying taxes. But, we know that it's doing some work, and we never want to be those, like assuming we don't pay taxes, which that's not true. People that don't pay taxes don't want to be caught. So they may do everything in their power to avoid that and start paying taxes if they can. The same thing may happen here. It's all a matter of how risk averse the potential employer might be and how necessary the immigrant worker or workers may be for the functioning of the business. There is certainly some some freedom to think that the state may not come down on you strongly if you do this, but obviously, it creates a climate of fear, mistrust, surveillance, and vigilance.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to Central Florida Public Media. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida with degrees in both Broadcast Journalism and Psychology. While at UCF, she was an intern for Central Florida’s public affairs show, Intersection. She joined on as Morning Edition Host in 2019. In 2022, Ms. Blake was appointed to the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalist’s board of directors.
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