By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – A key legislative advocate in efforts to strengthen Mississippi’s laws to curb the number of undocumented immigrants in the state says he is not sure how the issue will be dealt with during the upcoming 2013 session.
“I don’t have anything definitive in the way of plans for immigration legislation,” House Judiciary B Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said. “The committee is still assessing the June 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the helpful information we obtained during the August hearing on the subject.”
Gipson was referring to the Supreme Court ruling that struck down key portions of the Arizona law that gave its law officers more authority to enforce federal immigration law.
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 the issue might be revisited later, based on how Arizona law officers enforce it.
Gipson maintained at the time the legislation he tried to pass during the 2012 session would have been constitutional under the Supreme Court ruling.
Gipson’s proposal to strengthen Mississippi’s efforts against undocumented immigrants passed the House, but died in the Senate. A broad coalition of law enforcement, business and agribusiness organizations and local government officials voiced opposition to the proposal.
Law enforcement and local governments viewed it as an unfunded mandate on them. 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, such as encouraging or requiring local officials to work to curb undocumented immigration.
When asked about the chances of an immigration bill passing the Senate during 2013, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the chamber, simply said, “The Senate will review immigration-related legislation during the committee process if bills are filed.”
Gipson, who held several hours of contentious testimony on the issue in August, said, “We will take a good look at all immigration bills in the Jud B committee and will gauge interest in the bills from our members, from the public and from the Senate.”
Gov. Phil Bryant, who has been an outspoken advocate for strengthening laws dealing with undocumented immigrants, said after the June Supreme Court ruling he did not see any reason for Mississippi not to act.
One area of existing law that might need to be addressed based on the Supreme Court ruling is the penalties imposed under the state’s E-verify law.
During the August hearing, Mike Lanford, a deputy attorney general, told the committee that the Supreme Court ruling that struck down much of the Arizona immigration law said states could not impose penalties. Under existing Mississippi law, undocumented immigrants can face state penalties by applying for a job.