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Immigration issue stirs strong Tea Party feelings

He doesn’t like to see the law being broken. He’s tired of histax dollars going toward the great costs. He’s concerned about thedereliction of federal duties.

But most of all, Brookhaven’s Billy Amos is just downrightinsulted by America’s illegal immigration problem. That’s not howthings were done in his family.

His family did it the right way.

“My mother just got her citizenship 10 years ago, and when shetook that test, I’ll bet she knew more about the U.S. than any highschooler or even college kid,” Amos said.

Amos and his mother, Brookhaven’s Ernestine Amos, are bothnatives of Austria, with Billy’s citizenship guaranteed by hisAmerican father and Ernestine allowed entry into America by hermarriage. The matrimonial bond was enough for Ernestine until 10years ago, when her family finally encouraged her to take thecitizenship test.

She passed and became an American citizen after much study, muchworry and much pride. She followed the law.

“For her to work here all those years and do it right, I wanteveryone else to do it right, too,” Amos said. “I saw the strugglesshe went through to get citizenship, and for (illegal immigrants)to just cross over here and take it, it burns my butt.”

Amos brought his strong feelings on illegal immigration with himThursday night to hear District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven,address the topic during the monthly meeting of the McComb-basedSouthwest Mississippi Tea Party.

Currie – a longtime, loud advocate of immigration enforcement -has gained headlines in recent weeks for her plan to introduce acopy of Arizona’s far-reaching immigration bill and her criticismof state agencies for allegedly failing to enforce the MississippiEmployment Protection Act, a 2008 law that requires employers touse the E-verify system to make sure new employees are legal U.S.citizens.

Currie continued her criticism Thursday night, directing most ofher remarks at the Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

“The main person who should have been in charge of this bill isthe attorney general. To date, three years later, he hasn’t don’tone thing,” she said.

Currie told the crowd she’d stopped to speak with the supervisorof a Mississippi Department of Transportation road crew earlierthis spring – a stop that was initially made to ask why the crewwas cutting grass that didn’t need cutting on the side ofInterstate 55. With budget problems abounding in the Legislature,she perceived the big crew and its tractors to be wastingmoney.

“I pulled over and started asking, ‘Who’s your supervisor?’ Noone spoke English,” Currie claimed. “I called MDOT and said, ‘Tellme who is in charge of E-verifying these workers.’ The law statesthat you will not have a contract with the state if you don’t useE-verify.”

Currie’s response came from the AG’s office a few days later inthe form of a fax that showed the company in question – which shekept confidential – had agreed to use E-verify … in 2008.

“This was May 2010,” she said. “I called ICE (U.S. Immigrationand Customs Enforcement).”

Currie claimed ICE representatives told her the company she hadquestioned was in fact employing “hundreds” of illegal immigrants,but the agents were denied permission to raid its headquarters.

“The Bush administration was bad, the Obama administration isworse,” Currie said.

Currie’s story of E-verfiy failures prompted Brookhaven’s WanzaMcGuffie to share her own experience with the system.

“I work for a staffing agency, and I have to E-verify every timeI take an application,” she said. “For every person in my filethat’s working and I don’t have the proper E-verify form … I canbe fined $10,000.”

Other state agencies have neglected their duties to enforceE-verify laws, too, Currie said. She showed the Tea Party audiencea redacted document from the Division of Medicaid that approvedbenefits to a Jackson resident classified as an “illegalalien.”

Unable to make state agencies follow state laws and certainlyunable to make the federal government enforce federal laws,Currie’s roadside experience was the catalyst that led her toprepare an almost word-for-word copy of Arizona’s illegalimmigration bill, which itself is a copy of federal immigrationrules that gives local law enforcement the authority to check thestatus of suspected illegal immigrants.

“What the Arizona bill does is put this back in our hands,”Currie said. “Arizona has been sued, but it can’t go anywhere. Thebill is the exact federal law.”

Critics of bringing the Arizona bill to Mississippi point to thefederal government’s ongoing suit to stop the law’s implementation,saying the Magnolia State will be sued into submission, too.

Tea Party member Ken Stroud embraces the challenge.

“Let them take us to court,” he shouted. “We need 49 otherstates in with Arizona. Are they going to sue us all?”