Immigrant bill stirs emotions

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, January 18, 2011

She didn’t like the stickers.

When a group of protestors gathered at the Capitol last week tovoice their displeasure with legislation that would allowMississippi law enforcement officers to crack down on illegalimmigration, District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, noticedthem wearing labels that said, “Don’t take away our humanrights.”

The declaration caused her to have mixed feelings, she said.

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“Don’t take away mine, either. Illegal is illegal,” Currie said.”Nobody has a right to be here in this country if they don’t comehere legally.”

In the Legislature’s second week in session – a week normallyreserved for meetings, ceremonies and preparing bills for later -action has already begun on a bill that would give the state theauthority to enforce federal immigration laws, a copycat of theArizona law passed last year.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall,on Friday deemed Senate Bill 2179 sufficient to come before thefull Senate, an act that drew protestors before and plenty ofdiscussion afterward.

With a replica of the Senate bill under her authorship and awaitingaction in the House, Currie is paying close attention to the firstrelease of the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe NeighborhoodsAct of 2011. The Senate committee replaced the original bill with acommittee substitute that better addresses employment of illegalimmigrants and makes other changes – probably not bad language fora potential law, but perhaps not good for cooperation between theHouse and Senate, she said.

“They didn’t weaken the bill, but I wanted it to come out with noamendments, clean,” Currie said. “Now that they’ve changed theirs,we don’t have mirroring bills anymore. Any time you changesomething you just make it a little harder.”

Currie said SB 2179 and her own copy, House Bill 772, were authoredwith input from constitutional lawyers from Washington, D.C., andother attorneys from Arizona, where the original law that ignitedcopycatting by lawmakers in several states is being fought over bythe state and the U.S. Department of Justice. Hopes were the billsin Mississippi would remain identical to Arizona’s so the South’smore conservative courts would uphold the law in a challenge, shesaid.

“It’s not to say it doesn’t make it better, or that it won’t be OK,but there was no doubt the original version would be able to gothrough the courts,” Currie said.

But with parts of the same law already stricken by the federalgovernment in Arizona, changes may be necessary, said District 53Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. He predicted the final version ofwhatever immigration laws are passed this year will target whatmany view as the source of illegal immigration – jobs.

“We have seen some of the biggest employers in the state have a lotof issues because they’ve hired a lot of people who are not herelegally,” Moak said. “Instead of some feel-good issue, I thinkyou’re going to see it change into, ‘OK, let’s talk about whypeople are here and let’s talk about who has them here, and what’sgoing to happen to those who bring those people here.'”

And despite the perception the debate over illegal immigrationlegislation is partisan – with Republicans in the Senate in favorpassing the law while the Democratic House refuses – the House willweigh in, Moak predicted. He pointed to the E-verify law passed in2008, saying the Senate version was weak until House lawmakersinstalled teeth in the bill.

“The House will deal with this one,” he said.