By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down much of the Arizona immigration law has not deterred efforts by Gov. Phil Bryant and others to ensure people are not in Mississippi illegally.
They contend the bill they tried unsuccessfully to pass during the 2012 session was constitutional based on last week’s Supreme Court ruling in which three of the four key provisions of the Arizona law were struck down.
House Judiciary B Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, a key advocate of strengthening the state’s effort to curb illegal immigration, said the court’s decision doesn’t change his legislative plans.
“From the perspective of the viability of our proposed legislation … I was pleased with the decision,” Gipson said. He said if the bill he sponsored had become law, “it would have been upheld under the court’s decision.”
Gipson, an attorney, said the only provision in the Arizona law included in the Mississippi bill was the right of law enforcement to check for immigration status upon detention or arrest. The court majority upheld that provision.
Gov. Phil Bryant, also a strong advocate of strengthening Mississippi immigration laws, said while he was not pleased with the overall Supreme Court ruling, it “confirms that a state can authorize law enforcement officers to verify a person’s immigration status when a reasonable suspicion exists that the person is in the state illegally.”
The Supreme Court ruling said essentially that enforcing immigration policy is a federal and not state function, though it did give local law enforcement the authority to check on the immigration status of those stopped for other reasons.
The court majority, though, indicated that issue might be revisited later, based on how Arizona law officers enforce it.
The court went on to say that the federal government had the discretion to select how it enforces immigration law – focusing on those violating other laws, such as drug dealers, for example.
During the 2012 session, Gipson’s proposal passed the House but died in a Senate committee. A broad coalition of law enforcement, business and agribusiness groups and local government officials voiced opposition.
Law enforcement and local governments viewed it as an unfunded mandate. Business interests said state law already required employers to check a federal database (known as E-verify) to ensure a potential employee is legally in the country. They questioned the need to take additional steps to curb illegal immigration.
Gipson said he plans to pass a Mississippi immigration bill in the 2013 session and will hold hearings in August.
“I want to obtain the input from a variety of sources in an effort to develop a consensus,” he said. “I plan to consult in a meaningful way with law enforcement officials in an effort to obtain facts, especially regarding criminal activity statistics.”
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was criticized by various groups for allowing the 2012 bill to die in the Senate where he presides. “The Legislature can certainly look at what can be done within constitutional boundaries,” said Reeves. “However, ultimately, Congress will have to step up and protect our nation’s borders to completely eliminate illegal immigration.”
Legislative Black Caucus chairman Sen. Kenneth Wayne Jones, D-Canton, said the immigration debate is a waste of time.
“Though we share no borders with a foreign country,” Jones said, “the Mississippi Legislature burned a great deal of time during the 2012 session debating this issue and matters related to it, against the very vocal opinions of business leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, and minority leaders. We should now place these well-settled matters to rest and focus on creating jobs and real opportunities for all Mississippians.”