By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – After more than four hours of debate, the Mississippi Senate passed Arizona-styled legislation on Tuesday that cracks down on illegal immigrants.
The vote was 34-15.
Much of the debate centered around the impact of the bill on local law enforcement.
Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said he wanted to support legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants but worried that the proposal would put an unfunded mandate on local governments and would give any person the right to sue a law officer for not properly enforcing the new law.
Baria tried unsuccessfully to take out the section of the bill that would allow local law enforcement to be sued, but supporters of the legislation blocked Baria’s efforts by a 27-22 margin. The bill then passed 34-15 with all of the 26 Republicans in the 52-member chamber voting for it.
The bill now goes to the Mississippi House.
Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, the primary author of the legislation, said the intent of the lawsuit provision was not to sue individual law officers, but to allow people to sue local governments that won’t check for immigration status – so-called sanctuary cities.
When asked why other people were interpreting the language to allow individual law officers to be sued, Fillingane said, “That’s why they have courts, I guess.”
George Lewis, executive director of the Mississippi Municipal League, said in a legislative alert, while the bill had good points, he said it is “an unfunded mandate” on local governments and provides “an opened-ended ability for local citizens to take local offices to court.”
The bill, dubbed the Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, would among other things require law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally if they stop the person for another reason, such as for a traffic violation, a faulty tail light, jaywalking or for another more serious crime.
Under current law, Sen. Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, said state and local law enforcement already have the discretion to check for immigration status, but are not required to.
The lengthy debate covered a litany of topics from whether the bill would infringe on federal authority to whether law officers would racially profile if it becomes law.
Fillingane said the bill specifically prohibited racial profiling and would allow a person to sue a law officer for racial profiling. But he said if someone had trouble with the English language then that would be reason enough to ask for documentation.
“Critics question the cost of this legislation; however, the cost of not passing this legislation is far greater,” Fillingane said, citing a report by then-Auditor Phil Bryant saying the cost of illegal immigrants to the state was $25 million in 2006 and is probably much more now.
The provision of the bill mandating law officers to check for immigration status if there was reason to believe a person is in the country illegally was struck down this summer by a federal court in Arizona. The court ruled that enforcing immigration was the duty of the federal government, not the states.
Soon after the provision was struck down in Arizona, Bryant, who now presides over the Senate as lieutenant governor, voiced support for Mississippi passing similar legislation.
“There should be no reason why law enforcement authorities cannot ask for proof of citizenship during a routine traffic stop,” Bryant said Tuesday.
The audience in the Senate gallery watching the prolonged debate was much larger than normal. At one point, Bryant had to explain to supporters of the legislation that applause was not allowed. After that, no other disturbances came from the gallery.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How they voted
– Vote of Northeast Mississippi senators on legislation to mandate state and local law enforcement check immigration status of those suspected of breaking other laws:
FOR – Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc; Nancy Adams Collins, R-Tupelo; Gary Jackson, R-French Camp; Eric Powell, D-Corinth; Bill Stone, D-Ashland; J.P. Wilemon, DBelmont.
AGAINST – Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Gray Tollison,
D-Oxford, Bennie Turner, D-West Point.