MIRA: Immigration bill panders to fear, xenophobia

By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press

JACKSON — Immigrants’ rights advocates say Mississippi politicians are engaged in election-year pandering with a bill that would give law enforcement officers more leeway to check whether people are in the country illegally.

About 80 people rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol to oppose the bill.

The bill, which mirrors an Arizona law that took effect last year, is supported by several high-profile politicians. Chief among them is Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s running for governor.

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said the bill would erode public confidence in law enforcement and would put extra burdens on officers who are already stretched to do their jobs.

“This law is a challenge to who we are as a state, who we are as human beings and whether we are going to stand up for American ideals,” Chandler said. “This proposal only panders to the fear, xenophobia and bigotry of only some of our residents.”

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Judiciary A Committee.

Supporters say Mississippi needs to let sheriffs’ deputies and other law enforcement officers check people’s immigration status to protect public safety.

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, who can’t seek a third term as governor but is considering a 2012 presidential run, said he won’t commit to signing or vetoing a bill until he sees specifically what’s in it.

In an interview last month, Barbour said he sees nothing wrong with provisions in the Arizona law that allow an officer to check a person’s immigration status if the officer suspects the person is in the United States illegally.

“You know, that’s been complained about by some people on the left,” Barbour said. “I think that’s just normal law enforcement. You stop somebody and then if you have some suspicion that there’s something illegal, then you’re supposed to check it out.”

The Rev. Jorge Navarrete, a Methodist minister who lives in Pearl and works with Hispanic congregants in Forest, said Mississippi politicians should spend time and money to improve education and fight graft rather than targeting immigrants.

“It’s the politicians’ way of pandering to the fear of the people,” Navarrete said.

The bill is Senate Bill 2179.