SID SALTER: Opposition to immigration bill fed by unfunded mandate

By Sid Salter

One truism about immigration reform that should be repeated as earnestly as Dorothy repeated “there’s no place like home” in “The Wizard of Oz” is the fact that immigration enforcement is by definition a federal government responsibility. The border being crossed in violation of federal law by illegal immigrants is the U.S. border, not the Mississippi border or any other state.
Make no mistake – immigration enforcement is the responsibility of President Barack Obama, Congress, and ultimately the federal judicial and law enforcement systems. But under the control of Democrats and Republicans alike in the White House or the U.S. Capitol, Congress and every U.S. president has turned a blind eye and deaf ear to aggressive enforcement of existing immigration laws or to reform of those laws to deal with the problems that decades of allowing essentially open borders have generated.
Why? It’s political dynamite for both parties in critical states like California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York that control the balance of partisan power in the U.S. government.
State House Bill 488 is a bill that is popular in many corners of Mississippi based on the notion that if the federal government is going to continue to abdicate its duty under the law to enforce the nation’s immigration laws, then at least the state should step up and try to meet the problem.
Gov. Phil Bryant’s stance on state immigration enforcement initiatives has never wavered since his days as a state legislator.
But there’s a reason that the Mississippi Economic Council, Farm Bureau, Mississippi Municipal League, Missississippi Association of Supervisors, Mississippi Sheriff’s Association, and the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police are opposing HB 488. The bill represents an unfunded mandate for local governments … and the state is offering only $20 bucks a day as compensation.
There are no U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Mississippi. The nearest field office of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations is in New Orleans. Under HB 488, local governments will be forced to detain illegal immigrants until the feds take custody. That means filling up limited local jail cells with federal prisoners, feeding them, providing their medical care, and absorbing transportation costs. If the $20 per day doesn’t pay the freight – and in most cases, local governments fear it won’t – then local taxpayers will bear the cost of enforcing federal law through likely increases in their local taxes.
And what’s the federal government doing? The record is highly contradictory. On President Obama’s watch in 2011, ICE detained and deported a record 387,000 illegal immigrants – 55 percent of whom were criminals – last year alone. But in February, the Obama administration began shutting down an ICE program that deputized local police officers to act as immigration agents as part of a $191 million Homeland Security cut the White House recommended. ICE also reduced the overall number of ICE detention facilities from 370 to 255 nationwide. Local law enforcement and the local governments that fund them know this.
The less effective and expansive the federal immigration enforcement effort, the more expensive any state initiatives become for local governments who are increasingly fighting back against unfunded mandates. That’s why HB 488 has encountered such substantial opposition and appears to have lost momentum in the state Senate.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at (601) 507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.