By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The immigration bill signed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer last month draws mixed but strong emotions from Northeast Mississippians.
Even though the law, which is being called the strictest immigration legislation in the country, does not directly affect most Northeast Mississippians, its implications and guidelines are scary for some people, says Elquin Gonzalez of Tupelo.
Gonzalez, a Hispanic business owner, said the bill opens the door for racial profiling.
“This is a terrible law for Arizona, it being a border state,” he said. “It gives police the power to harass people who look Hispanic. If I go to Arizona I can be pulled over and possibly taken to jail because I am Hispanic? I’m a legal citizen, so that’s not fair.”
The law makes it a crime for immigrants to be without alien-registration documents, and undocumented citizens would be charged with “trespassing” for being in Arizona. The law also allows police to question and arrest people without a warrant if there is “reasonable suspicion” about their immigration status.
It is now illegal for people to employ illegal immigrants or to transport them anywhere in the state, even if they are family members.
Like Gonzalez, Jerrold Hernandez also is a U.S. citizen. A Tupelo waiter, Hernandez said Hispanics are harassed by law enforcement without the help of any legislation and that the law will make things worse for “hard-working, legal Hispanics.”
“Police don’t need an excuse to harass people in this country, especially Hispanics. A Lee County deputy just pleaded guilty to robbing Hispanics that he pulled over, so it already happens,” he said, referring a recent court case involving former lawman Michael Minich.
Kevin Jackson of Tupelo feels differently.
“I feel like the problem is so bad in some states, especially a border state like Arizona, that something had to be done,” said Jackson. “I like the law. It will encourage illegal aliens who already live here to try to get citizenship and will send a message to those who want to come over with no intentions to get legal. It will also punish those employers who care more about making a cheap buck than doing what’s right for the country.”
Jonathan McGee said he’s been out of work for more than a year and blames the loss of his job on cheaper Hispanic labor.
“I think it’s unfair for us as American citizens when someone who is not from this country and probably not even legal, can come in a replace us on jobs because they are cheaper,” said McGee.
“Arizona is on the right track. There are a lot of people against it, but I imagine a lot of those people benefit from the labor of illegal immigrants. I say become a citizen and enjoy all that this country has to offer or don’t come here.”
Not all non-Hispanic Americans agree. Amy Thompson said she is embarrassed that a state would treat any race of people this way.
“Our whole country was built on immigration,” said Thompson, who did say she’d like to see the government require people to become legal. “So how hypocritical is it for us to say they don’t belong here. Unless you are native American, we are all immigrants somewhere down the line. This bill will cause problems on a lot of levels.”