By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Protecting America’s borders is supposed to be the responsibility of the United States government, yet the candidates for Mississippi’s governor and lieutenant governor spend a lot of time talking about illegal immigration and what they would do to combat it.
One thing both the Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that they do not believe the federal government has done an adequate job of dealing with any real or perceived problems caused by illegal immigration.
Democratic Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville, who is running for lieutenant governor, said, “Until the federal government properly guards our borders, undocumented immigrant labor is an issue the state must address.”
Franks’ opponent for the open seat, Republican Auditor Phil Bryant, had his office conducted a study of how much illegal immigrants cost the state each year. Bryant’s study concluded the cost is about $25 million annually, though the study’s authors admitted the costs are difficult to ascertain because of the unreliability of the data.
Gov. Haley Barbour, who is seeking a second term, says border security is “a primary responsibility” of the federal government.
“For decades, however, our nation’s borders have not been secured properly, which puts our nation’s security at risk and makes our immigration laws largely irrelevant,” the Republican said. “In the next four years, my administration will continue helping to fill the void.”
Barbour has been quick to point out that illegal immigrants are not provided Medicaid or other state social services.
John Arthur Eaves Jr., Barbour’s Democratic opponent, said, “If the federal government won’t take responsibility to stop illegal immigration, then as governor, I will.”
Eaves said “as a Christian,” he does not blame anyone for wanting to come to Mississippi to make a better life, but he insisted big corporations are taking advantage of the illegal immigrants by paying them less than minimum wage.
“It’s not fair for Mississippi taxpayers and workers to spend $25 million a year providing benefits to illegal immigrants while corporations who hire them get away with not paying minimum wage, not paying Social Security and not paying state taxes,” Eaves said, adding he would work to make sure “big companies don’t get away with giving our jobs to illegal immigrants and sticking us with the bill.”
Barbour said he is working with federal officials to obtain additional resources for state and local law enforcement to deal with illegal immigration.
Barbour said he also is working with businesses to try to get them to ensure their employees have the proper documentation.
Under his leadership, Barbour has said Highway Patrol personnel have been trained to recognize fraudulent documentation that could be used to obtain a driver’s license.
Bryant proposes requiring people to have a proper Mississippi license before being able to buy a car tag.
A key recommendation of the auditor’s study of the issue is to require state agencies to keep better documentation of the number of illegal immigrants arrested in Mississippi to get better data on their impact on the state. Bryant also recommended that state agencies do a better job of documenting when illegal immigrants apply for services.
He also proposes canceling the contracts of vendors who do business with the state and hire illegal immigrants.
Franks has been a leader in the House in requiring legislation providing economic incentives for corporations, such as Toyota, that would result in the company’s losing those benefits if they were convicted of hiring illegal immigrants.
Franks also said he would form a special committee to study the issue to determine the type of legislation needed to deal with illegal immigration.
Contact Daily Journal Jackson Bureau reporter Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or