By NEMS Daily Journal
The waves created by Arizona’s controversial immigration law, partially blocked for constitutional examination by a federal court in July, formally reached Mississippi on Tuesday when the Senate Judiciary A Committee began two days of hearings to evaluate the need for similar or identical legislation in our state.
People whose opinions fall on both sides of the discussion are scheduled to testify, and their positions generally reflect the divide on the issue in public opinion and discourse nationwide.
Mississippi has deeply rooted historical reasons to adopt a cautious and slow consideration of any law that would heighten the perception that our state still makes laws based on race and ethnicity rather than compelling need for action.
While the population of new Latino immigrants in Mississippi has inarguably expanded during the past decade, it is difficult to pin down the number of illegals residing here, as in the rest of the United States.
Arizona’s law, which would have required state law enforcement officers to regularly check, in the course of other enforcement, the status of people suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, rises from an undisputed, large flow of illegals across the Mexico-Arizona border and internal tensions related to that.
Mississippi doesn’t have an illegal immigration issue of the same magnitude, but it does have statewide elections next year, always a doorway to some kind of political opportunism.
Bills mirroring the Arizona law already have been drafted.
Mississippi has passed significant immigration legislation during the past four years. One aspect dealt with businesses employing illegal immigrants and the standards used to enforce immigration laws through employers; another aspect dealt with fining, jailing and deporting immigrants, which largely duplicates federal responsibility and stands to cost Mississippi a lot of money if it’s ever fully pursued.
In 2008, Mississippi passed a law requiring employers to use the U.S. Homeland Security E-Verify system to check new workers’ immigration status. Under the law, any company found guilty of employing illegals could lose public contracts for three years and could lose the right to do business in Mississippi for one year.
Mississippi has virtually no money available for funding additional burdens on law enforcement. Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson testified that additional enforcement responsibilities would stretch his already thin force and its resources.
State leaders in both parties would do better in pressing their congressional colleagues to renew bipartisan immigration reform efforts. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., were able to agree on a good bill, but politics doomed its chances for enactment.