EDITORIAL: Red herring

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi politicians who embrace the idea that our state urgently needs an immigration control law like Arizona’s are seizing on an easy political issue while Mississippi’s most pressing need – jobs creation – is still elusive.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, an almost certain candidate for governor in 2011, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who sounds like a gubernatorial candidate but hasn’t made any public decisions, and incumbent Gov. Haley Barbour, who says he would sign such a bill if passed, all are among those who want Mississippi to pass an Arizona-like law. All this does is divert attention from Mississippi’s struggling economy, which has lost 72,000 jobs (including 27,500 manufacturing jobs) during the past four years and has an unemployment rate of 11 percent statewide, 1.5 percentage points higher than the nation.
Immigration law is the hot button issue du jour, and it is a politically handy diversion. It ignores the foundational responsibility of state government to empower economic development while leaving historically federal issues to Congress and the incumbent president.
There’s no arguing that presidents Obama, Bush II, Clinton and Bush I all have failed to craft and lead to passage effective immigration reform, including border control, but it remains primarily a federal issue. And Mississippi’s problems with illegal immigration are hardly the same as Arizona’s, which borders Mexico.
Arizona’s law has been delayed in part by a federal judge on constitutional grounds, and it could be years before the case is finally settled. Following Arizona’s lead before the constitutional issues are settled would be a waste of state money, energy and the taxpayer-funded time of state employees.
Mississippi’s economy, on the other hand, is the responsibility of our elected leadership and private-sector partners across the spectrum – with many struggling to retain profitability and keep their plants and businesses in our state.
Pursuing a questionable immigration law is a waste of time in the face of economic problems that, while affected by national and global conditions, require focused state actions, intellectual resources and policy decisions in a state that has historically lagged behind economically.
The unemployment rate in Mississippi is 4.9 percentage points above December 2007. Last month, 145,900 Mississippians who wanted a job were out of work. Our state’s per capita income has declined 2.8 percent since its peak in the fourth quarter of 2007 ($27,343.60 in the 4th quarter of 2009, down from $28,010.90 in the 4th quarter of 2007).
Our state economic issues – which are primary in every political context – rise from an undereducated work force, loss of too many of our best-educated citizens and the failure of political leadership to bite the bullet rather than using a red herring like immigration to divert attention from long-term, bipartisan failure of vision and action.