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Imagine Florida’s undocumented immigrants leaving the state.

Fields and groves would fill with rotting produce and fruit for lack of workers to harvest them. Resorts would empty of vacationers as house staff would be stretched too thin to give premium service.

Construction projects would get delayed because the day-laborers pool would dry up. College classes would be dropped because student enrollments would fall off.

All undocumented workers are economic activity at the base level, and the effects of their loss would trickle up exponentially.

It’s not simply that one out of 12 workers would disappear. Cash businesses in local communities would fail, and those failures would weaken the chain of suppliers above them and reduce state sales-tax revenue. The impact is economy of scale in reverse.

Immigrants, whether undocumented or guest workers, fill the cracks in the employment foundation.

Remove them, and Florida’s economy falls into a sinkhole.

The state legislature has two anti-immigrant bills inching forward. House Bill 7089 is Arizona 2.0. Senate Bill 2040 is Arizona Lite.

The difference – kinder, gentler language – is window dressing. Arizona’s anti-immigrant law cost that state millions of dollars last year. Given the difference in size, Florida’s cost would be in the billions.

Legislative leaders need to drop these bills because they are morally defective for at least three reasons.

1.     They would do more harm than good. Businesses would suffer doubly in lost commerce and increased employment expenses. Consequently, non-immigrants would lose jobs. The bills would also force tax increases as local police take on unfunded responsibilities. Aggressive law enforcement would rip families apart.

2.     They would use inappropriate means and thus fail to generate appropriate solutions. Being “out of status” is a federal civil offense, but these laws would make that a state criminal offense. That may scare away the undocumented and their extended families, but it’s not a real solution. Florida needs a large pool of low-wage, seasonal workers. Congress needs to reform immigration laws so such workers can live openly in society.

3.     The effective means for implementing these rules depends on prejudice, which is immoral. Passing references in the bills to forbid racial profiling would not stop it. Extensive record-keeping, training and review are required to check prejudice, but they’re not here.

Moreover, these bills fail to address human trafficking, which is the one morally mandated issue that should be taken up.

Legislators were sent to Tallahassee to fix Florida’s economy, not tank it. The real work is comprehensive immigration reform. Let’s get to it.

Russell L. Meyer is executive director of the Florida Council of Churches in Tampa. Meyer’s column first appeared in the Orlando Sentinel and is used with his permission.

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