Opposition won't stop immigration bill's filing

JACKSON – Senate Judiciary A Chair Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said Wednesday that opponents of an Arizona-style anti-immigration law did “make some salient points” in testimony before his committee, but he still plans to file a similar bill in Mississippi.
For instance, Fillingane said the Mississippi proposal, which he and others most likely will try to pass during the 2011 legislative session, should include language to protect from prosecution church groups and others “providing humanitarian aid … We don’t want to criminalize humanitarian help.”
A draft copy of the legislation would make it a crime to provide such help, people opposed to the bill testified to the Senate Committee.
“I feel like we certainly heard from all the different political spectrums on this issue, which is the purpose of these types of hearings,” Fillingane said Wednesday after two days of hearings at the state Capitol. “We got to hear all points of view.”
Legislators in both the House and Senate plan to introduce legislation that would require state and local law enforcement to check for immigration status if a person is being investigated on another matter and there is “reasonable suspicion … the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”
Portions of the Arizona law, including language requiring local law enforcement to check for immigration status, has been blocked by the federal courts. But Fillingane indicated that federal courts in Mississippi might reach a different conclusion about the constitutionality of the law.
At any rate, the issue is expected to be eventually decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
During the two days of hearings, the constitutionality of the law was debated, as well as whether illegal immigrants helped or hurt the state economy.
The state auditor’s office, under the guidance of then-Auditor Phil Bryant, released a study in 2006 estimating the cost of illegal immigration to the state at about $25 million. Officials, though, admit that study was only an estimate and firm numbers were hard to obtain.
Samantha Atkinson of the auditor’s office said the study is currently being updated.
Others presented studies saying illegal immigrants actually boost the state economy.
At times, testimony involved the financial impact and different interpretations of what the law would do in Mississippi if enacted. And other times, the debate centered on religious issues and how illegal immigrants should be treated in terms of Christian values.
The debate even turned to whether Jesus ever broke the law. One supporter of immigrants rights said that’s what happened when an angry Jesus disrupted the work of “the money changers” in the temple.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal