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Lawmakers’ feelings mixed on immigration bill

Area representatives looked back on the House’s passage ofanti-illegal immigration legislation last week with mixedfeelings.

Each legislator claimed a sense of accomplishment at finallyhaving passed at least one piece of immigration reform, but eachwas left with certain disappointments about the bill’sstructure.

“For better or for worse, I was heavily involved with the bill,”said District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, the vice chairman ofthe Judiciary B committee that introduced the Senate bill to theHouse floor. “I’m not completely satisfied with it, no – but we hadto make a start with it somewhere and I can deal with this.”

The bill, which passed in a landslide vote of 111-8, is awaitingaction by Gov. Haley Barbour.

The bill mandates that employers use the e-verify system, a freeInternet database ran by the Department of Homeland Security inconjunction with the Social Security Administration, to check apotential employee’s work eligibility. Employees that do not clearthe database check will not be eligible for hire.

If an employer knowingly hires an illegal alien, that employerbecomes liable for sanctions, including the loss of all publiccontracts and a possible three-year ineligibility on further publiccontracts. Employers who unknowingly hire illegal aliens – ife-verify makes a mistake – will not be held liable.

The bill only immediately affects businesses with 250 or moreemployees, but will expand with each year to include all businessesas of July 1, 2011.

“The smallest businesses have until 2011 to do whatever theyneed to do to prepare for the requirements,” Evans said. “Oneemployer told us that he didn’t even have computers at hisbusiness.

“But I can’t imagine, between now and 2011, a business withoutsome kind of computer system. And the e-verify system does not costanything to the employer seeking clearance.”

Despite the bill’s breaking of the ice on the issue of illegalimmigration, Evans said many remain unsatisfied.

“It’s a relatively severe penalty for employers,” he said. “Butsome of my constituents who have contacted me on this bill weren’tgoing to be satisfied with anything less than employers who hireillegal aliens having jail time, and this bill does not dothat.”

Neither does the bill mandate jail time for illegal immigrantscaught with a false Social Security number.

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, was one of a number who feltthe penalties laid out by the bill were not stiff enough.

“The only thing this bill didn’t do is deal with smallemployers,” said Currie, who voted for the bill. “Unless you’re abig company, this bill isn’t really going to affect you any timesoon.”

Currie said she would have liked to have seen a more sweepingchange, with several facets of the illegal immigration issue takenup in one piece of legislation.

“We’re doing it in bits and pieces,” she said. “We’re takingtiny steps at a time. In medicine, we always want an instantoutcome, and that’s what I’m used to dealing with. This is a littlefrustrating for me, cause I just see little pieces being chippedaway.”

Currie did admit, however, that the bill’s “bits and pieces”approach may have been necessary for its passage.

“When you start passing legislation as hard as the Oklahomabill, it’s hard to get everybody on board,” she said. “This billdidn’t get everything done that I’d really like to do, but I’mthrilled to death that we have the ball rolling now.”

Currie said she was thrilled that the legislators heard thepeople of Mississippi and voted on the issue.

“For the people who voted ‘no’, I’m sure they’ll hear all aboutit from their constituents, and they should,” she said.

Beyond the view of some that Senate Bill 2988 is too lax onpunishment, others found problems with the bill’s veryfoundations.

“I didn’t think it was drafted too well,” said District 53 Rep.Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. “There’s some issues with it, and Idon’t know what the governor is going to do.”

Moak said the bill has some Constitutional issues, but theLegislature doesn’t make rulings on Constitutional issues.

“If you read everything carefully in federal law, using thestate Legislature to make it a criminal act for a person to behired is probably something that can be called into question,” Moaksaid. “Politically, a lot of folks would like to see that, but isit legal? That’s the real question. I think it could hurt the billif someone challenged it.”

Despite the bill’s flaws, however, Moak was one of the 111representatives who voted in its favor.

“It’s simply a vote on the issue,” Moak said in discussing hissupport.

Moak said the judiciary committee brought the bill out just likethe Senate had it so it would go straight to the governor and notback to the Senate for a conference committee.

“I thought the bill had some problems, but if you support theconcept – that only persons who are in the country legally shouldbe hired – then the bill was a good move,” Moak said. “We said wewere gonna act on it, and we did. It’s on the governor’s desk now,and we’ll see what happens from there.”