By Sid Salter
The 2006 Mississippi immigration study from former state auditor and current Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant found that while illegal immigrants indeed paid $44.2 million in taxes, they cost state taxpayers $69.3 million annually for health care, education and prison costs – accounting for what Bryant said was a net loss to state taxpayers of some $25 million per year.
Now Bryant is running for governor and one of the hottest grassroots issue in that race is illegal immigration.
Mississippi is one of 24 states with some form of Arizona–style immigration reform legislation currently pending before their state legislatures. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), states enacted a record number of bills and resolutions on immigration issues during the 2010 sessions.
But is that legislation the answer to the problem? Mississippi lawmakers aren’t alone in pursuing state legislation for a federal enforcement problem.
Carrot or stick?
At least 46 state legislatures and the District of Columbia enacted 208 laws and adopted 138 resolutions for a total of 346. Ten additional bills were vetoed.
During the same period in 2009, 44 states enacted 202 laws and adopted 131 resolutions for a total of 333. Twenty bills in 2009 were vetoed. Montana, Nevada, North Dakota or Texas were not in regular session in 2010.
Mississippi has an Arizona–style piece of immigration legislation (Senate Bill 2179) that has passed the Senate, but that saw substantial revisions of the bill in a House version. The Senate version drew quick criticism from the Mississippi Municipal League and the Mississippi Association of Supervisors for exposing local governments and law enforcement entities to lawsuits over federal immigration law enforcement by local governments. Local governments also called the Senate version an “unfunded mandate” and questioned where funding for the additional enforcement would come from. Some said it would necessitate local tax increases.
Which came first?
The question that taxpayers should be asking about illegal immigration – other than why the federal government isn’t taking responsibility for enforcing federal law – is just who profits from illegal immigration? The answer is that two groups profit – those who employ them and those who broker their services.
States and the feds don’t need to target the illegal immigrants; they need to target the employers who give jobs to illegal immigrants. Without jobs available, illegal immigrants aren’t paying taxes into the system and qualifying on one level or another for state public health or public education services. It’s time to break the cycle.
The only plausible deterrent to illegal immigration is harsh, sure criminal prosecution and prison time for those who knowingly employ illegal immigrants.
The Senate version of immigration legislation is one that is all stick and no carrot. Why? Because it ignores the very basic fact that illegal immigrants brave the dangerous trip into America for two reasons – lax federal enforcement and the sure promise of a job once they get here. Without cutting off the supply of jobs, there will be no effective enforcement.
Contact columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961–7084 or e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org. He is Perspective editor at the Clarion–Ledger.