OUR OPINION: Immigration bill not a state priority

By NEMS Daily Journal

When the Mississippi Legislature convenes its 2013 session next week, a host of important topics will face lawmakers, with education, Medicaid and the budget topping the list.
One issue the Legislature shouldn’t waste its time with is immigration.
Gov. Phil Bryant and others have pushed a toughening of Mississippi’s laws to reduce undocumented, or illegal, immigrants in the state. A bill passed the House in the 2012 but died in the Senate.
Law enforcement across the state rallied against the bill, seeing their enlistment in active enforcement of immigration laws as an unfunded mandate. Local government organizations had the same response. Business interests worried about its impact on their operations, and pointed out that employers are already required to verify that any prospective hire is in the country legally.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves listened to these concerns and essentially put the brakes on the bill in the Senate by assigning it to a committee whose chairman let it die.
Since the 2012 session ended, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the Arizona law after which Mississippi proponents have patterned their legislation. The court sent the message that immigration is a federal issue and states should be limited in crafting their own laws.
As it has in so many areas, Congress has failed to produce comprehensive immigration reform that will both reduce illegal immigration and provide a reasonable solution to the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., many of them firmly rooted in the communities where they live. But failure to craft and pass a comprehensive solution at the federal level doesn’t alter the reality that it’s a federal responsibility, not the states’.
Mississippi does not have an illegal immigration problem that requires extraordinary steps. There are, of course, immigrants who are in Mississippi illegally, but nowhere near the level of a state like Arizona. The push for immigration legislation in recent years has been more about politics than practical necessity.
It’s encouraging that the chief House proponent of get-tough immigration legislation, Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said recently that he doesn’t “have anything definitive in the way of plans for immigration legislation” in the 2013 session. Maybe the reality that other concerns are much more pressing will set in and lawmakers will avoid an emotional detour down that road.