Pickering laments state’s illegal immigration woes

Published 7:50 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When Mississippi State Auditor Stacey Pickering gets the urgefor a late-night snack, he’s got several shopping choices in hisneighborhood in Laurel.

He could head over to the local supermercado, or supermarket, orperhaps he could run on down to the nearby tienda, or store.

They’re built and stocked just like a regular grocery orconvenience store, but with one quite noticeable exception -everything is written in Spanish. The stores cater to Laurel’srising population of Hispanic illegal immigrants.

“They have the absolute best cottages and pastries,” Pickeringsaid.

Good snacks or not, the all-Spanish stores are indicative ofillegal immigration in Laurel, which has one of the largest percapita increases in illegal immigrants in the state, Pickeringsaid. He referred to the supermercado and the tienda as he brokeinto his longest response of the night during a question and answersession with local Republican supporters Tuesday at the StateRoom.

“It’s a real problem in Mississippi. It’s not just a borderstate problem,” Pickering said.

Pickering laid out his views on America’s illegal immigrationproblem when a member of the audience asked his views on thestate’s chances of passing illegal immigration laws, namely thechances of success of local Rep. Becky Currie’s copy of Arizona’snew law, which the Legislature will take up in the 2011 session.The state auditor offered praise for Arizona’s efforts at combatingillegal immigration and opined that Currie’s bill, or a similarone, would likely pass in Mississippi next year.

“If the federal government is not going to do its job, we haveto do our job,” Pickering said of state governments. “There’s anarmed struggle in northern Mexico with narcoterrorists, and they’restarting to spill over into America.”

President Barack Obama’s decision to use the U.S. Department ofJustice to Arizona in an attempt to overturn its new law isunprecedented and incorrect, Pickering said, a violation of states’rights and an abuse of federal power. He said he’s hoping the U.S.Supreme Court will get the case and rule in favor of Arizona.

“The federal government has to remember it is part of the UnitedStates,” he said, emphasizing the word ‘states.’ “We are a federalrepublic, and our power comes from the people.”

In the meantime, Pickering argued that America’s border withMexico should be sealed, and securing that border is the onlyacceptable first step in any kind of illegal immigration reform orenforcement.

“There’s a large section of the border where the U.S. can’tbuild a fence because some endangered antelope lives there,” hecriticized. “Some people in this country seem to care more aboutanimals’ lives than human lives.”

The audience also picked Pickering’s brain about the Gulf ofMexico oil spill. He said his office continues to monitor andanalyze the spill’s economic impact on Mississippi.

“What are the long-term effects on our seafood industry?”Pickering asked. “Not just fishing, but the packaging industry, themarketing industry, the guy who sells plastic buckets to thefishermen? We’ve spent a good deal of time building a brand – GulfCoast Shrimp – and no one wants to eat it now. And they have everyright.”

The oil spill has caused at least one sector of the Mississippieconomy to rise, however.

“Gaming revenue is up,” Pickering said. “We’ve got a lot ofpeople living in hotels on the coast working on the oil spill. Whenthe day is over, they want to eat at a nice restaurant and they’vegot a little money in their pickets, so where are they going to go?To the casino. But tourism is still down.”

Pickering also urged his audience to support PersonhoodMississippi, a ballot initiative that will define life as beginningat conception.

“Guess what that does? That shuts down the last abortion clinicin Mississippi,” he said.

On local matters, Pickering said the ongoing legislative battleover the Mississippi School of the Arts would continue until coolerheads come to the negotiating table and work out a long-termsolution for both MSA and the Mississippi School for Mathematicsand Science. The two residential schools – located in Brookhavenand Columbus, respectively – have been threatened with merger orclosure for the past two years.

One questioner tried to spur Pickering into voicing support forleaving MSA alone, but the state auditor would not go that far.

“We’ve got to embrace the arts – it’s part of our future – butwe have to come up with a better way. It can’t continue to be apolitical football,” he said. “The state is subsidizing the roomand board, and there needs to be some tradeoff. Some people thinkwe shouldn’t be paying for such a small, specialized program. Someof it is jealousy. It’s going to keep coming up.”