OUR OPINION: Immigration ruling validates state caution

By NEMS Daily Journal

Supporters of an Arizona-style law in Mississippi to crack down on illegal immigration, including Gov. Phil Bryant, made a hard push in the 2012 legislative session for its enactment.
At the beginning of the session, it looked like a sure thing. Republicans were in control of both houses for the first time in more than a century, and the governor was behind it. But everyone wasn’t so excited about the idea.
Business groups opposed it, saying they were already responsible for verifying the legal status of their employees and fearing the impact on their operations and on the state’s image. Law enforcement officials objected to the requirement they become heavily involved in what is a federal responsibility, and saw it as an unfunded mandate.
And numerous religious leaders raised questions about the legislation’s moral and ethical implications and its potential for abuse by ethnic profiling.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves listened to these groups, and put on the brakes, assigning the bill to a committee headed by Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who let it die without calling it up for consideration.
We thought at the time that Reeves did the right thing, and last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision underscored the wisdom of not rushing into action on this contentious issue.
No one would argue that the United States doesn’t have an illegal immigration problem. But Mississippi isn’t among the states where it is an urgent drain on resources or a serious economic deprivation to citizens. And comprehensive national legislation – enforced to a degree that administrations both Democratic and Republican have failed at doing – is the solution, not a patchwork system of state laws.
Supporters of the Mississippi bill are renewing efforts to get it passed in the 2013 legislation session. Hearings likely will be held in August.
The Supreme Court struck down three of the four major provisions of the Arizona law, but the fourth – requiring law officers to ask for residency status papers when they suspect someone is in the country legally – could be revisited at a later date, the court said. It will depend on how Arizona enforces the law.
Mississippi’s bill was more narrowly crafted, but the uncertainties of where all of this will fall make legislation imprudent at this point.
The Supreme Court’s decision was clear in its overriding message: Immigration law enforcement is a federal responsibility and the states may not do anything to undermine or circumvent federal law. That’s really the heart of the matter.