OUR OPINION: Caution intervenes on immigration bill

By NEMS Daily Journal

Law enforcement organizations, business and agriculture leaders and many clergy for months have warned against Mississippi rushing ahead with passage of an Arizona-style immigration bill. Now it appears what looked like a sure thing with Republican majorities in both houses may not be.
The bill is a priority of Gov. Phil Bryant, and it passed the House earlier this legislative session. A tough stance against illegal immigration was one of the cornerstones of Bryant’s campaign last year.
But while the politics of immigration may be easy, implementation of sweeping legislation that has caused problems in other states, including neighboring Alabama, is more problematic. Sheriffs and police chiefs across Mississippi worry that they don’t have the time nor the resources to be handling a job that’s supposed to belong to the federal government. Local government officials worry about the impact on their budgets, business and agriculture about its effects on their operations and clergy about the moral and ethical implications.
All of these concerns have persuaded Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, presiding officer of the state Senate, to take a cautious approach and slow down the train on this one. He’s doing the right thing by listening to the concerns of those who would actually have to implement the law and, outside of immigrants themselves, be most directly affected by it.
Few deny that illegal immigration is a problem in the U.S., but Mississippi’s situation is not so pressing as to demand that the state take on the role of legal documentation enforcer. Under the proposal, law enforcement would be required to check on the documented status of persons under arrest if amp”a reasonable suspicion existsamp” that they’re in the country illegally. If they’re undocumented, they would be held for deportation.
The potential for abuse and intimidation – not just of illegal immigrants, but of any person who fit a profile, legally in the country or not – isn’t hard to see. Alabama since adopting its law has had some embarrassing incidents. Mississippi doesn’t need any more bruises on an image shaped in the nation’s mind by a racially troubled past.
Alabama has also lost a large portion of its agriculture work force, and no wave of native-borns has lined up to take their place. It isn’t just illegal immigrants who leave; those who are legal are discouraged from staying by the implied message that they aren’t welcome and the logical conclusion that life could get more difficult for them.
Immigration law and its enforcement belong at the federal level, where a comprehensive solution is needed. Mississippi would be creating more problems than it solved by passing this bill.