MIAMI (AP) - Hundreds of immigrant activists and supporters are organizing protests this week across Florida to protest two tough immigration bills being debated in the Legislature.
A House bill allows local police to check a person's immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally and requires they check the status of anyone under investigation - though not necessarily arrested - for a crime. Courts have blocked similar provisions in Arizona's new immigration law.
The bill also makes being in the country illegally a criminal misdemeanor. Under federal law, it is a less serious civil infraction. The House bill also mandates employers use a federal database called E-Verify to check whether new employees are eligible to work in the U.S.
The final Senate version is more limited in scope and it allows employers to use driver licenses to check work eligibility. Still, immigrants and business still oppose it.
At a rally at dusk in Miami's Little Havana, Democrats called out State House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera and State Senator Anitere Flores, both Republicans, for not taking a stronger stand against the bills. Lopez-Cantera opposes the House bill but has not used his powerful position to publicly influence colleagues. Flores chairs the committee that presented the Senate version and said the final bill is better because she worked on it rather than simply opposing it.
On Monday, a dozen buses from Clearwater went to Tallahassee for a march by immigrant children, and on Tuesday, growers and fieldworkers plan to highlight the bills' effects on agriculture. A day later, Dream Act-eligible students will make their case.
The nonprofit, progressive Hispanic Group Democracia USA has been targeting Flores in Spanish-language radio ads, accusing her of being a traitor to the Hispanic community.
Flores shot back in a statement Monday night that such ads "are directed at scoring political points at the expense of the truth."
Lopez-Cantera did not return several calls by The Associated Press seeking comment.
Those who back the measures say the state must act because Washington won't.
They accuse businesses of being disingenuous when they warn of the dire economic consequences the legislation could have, maintaining agriculture and the hospitality industries simply want to protect their cheap source of labor - illegal immigrants.
Flores said she opposes an Arizona style bill in Florida, noting that her bill - unlike the House bill - does not criminalize immigrants in the country illegally.
"These groups are aware of that and continue to misrepresent for their own political gain," she said.