Local officials worried about immigration bill costs

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Local government officials and law enforcement told the House Judiciary B Committee on Thursday that they need money from the state if they are expected to do more to stem illegal immigration in Mississippi.
“What we are against are unfunded mandates,” Leake County Supervisor Joe Andy Helton said during a meeting where House Judiciary B Chair Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, discussed the possibility of introducing new legislation during the 2013 session. “All we are asking is for the state to figure out a way to pay for this.”
Ken Winter, former Indianola police chief and current executive director of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, said local officials would need money to house undocumented immigrants, for medical care and for training of law officers to enforce federal law.
A combination of business interests, the farming community, law enforcement and local government officials killed Gipson’s efforts this year to pass legislation to require Mississippi law officers to enforce federal immigration law.
Thursday dozens of people on both sides of the issue jammed into a House committee room in the Capitol to make their feelings known.
Mike Lanford, a deputy attorney general, said the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down much of the Arizona immigration law also impacted existing Mississippi law. Under existing law, undocumented immigrants can face state penalties by applying for a job. The court ruled immigration was a federal issue and the states could not impose penalties.
Lanford said there had been no complaints lodged against employers for violations of Mississippi’s current E-Verify law that requires checking a federal database to ensure a potential new employee is legally in the country. But some speakers complained they had tried to phone the attorney general’s office to report violations by employers but were told that immigration was a federal issue.
Those speaking against a tougher law included Joseph Latino, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, and other religious leaders.
Tupelo attorney Barry Walker, who specializes in immigration law, said, “Do you really want to involve the law enforcement of the state of Mississippi in the enforcement of federal law?”
Walker said he has identified more than 60 different ways a person could be lawfully in the country and it would take time away from fighting other crimes for local law enforcement to deal with the complexities of federal law. Gipson said under the bill killed in the 2012 session, law enforcement would only check immigration status when making an arrest for another reason.
Also Thursday, Gov. Phil Bryant issued an executive order saying that immigrants who were granted deferred status by the Obama administration earlier this summer would not be eligible for state benefits.
President Barack Obama’s executive order will defer deportation of immigrants under the age of 30 who as children came to the country with their parents without documentation. Some at Thursday’s hearing said Obama’s actions violated the Constitution.
“Illegal immigration has real consequences for Mississippi, as it puts additional burdens on our already stretched budget,” Bryant said. “This executive order will help ensure that public benefits go to only those persons who are lawfully eligible.”
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com