House OKs amended illegal immigration bill

Published 7:00 pm Friday, January 28, 2011

The version of an illegal immigration bill that passed the HouseThursday has new provisions that may be too tough for one party andtoo lenient for the other.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said the amendedversion of Senate Bill 2179, the Support Our Law Enforcement andSafe Neighborhoods Act of 2011, contains stiff penalties foremployers who hire illegal immigrants and a sweetener for local lawenforcement agencies who jail them.

“You need to shut the door right there,” said Moak, who presentedthe bill on the House floor. “What the House did was hear fromMississippians who said the cause of this problem is people whocontinue to bring these folks in illegally. That’s what needs tostop.”

The amended legislation now stipulates businesses found guilty ofhiring illegal immigrants may face fines of not less than $5,000per day and not more than $25,000 per day, with those funds placedin an account accessible by local governments for reimbursement ofcosts or to pay for more training for law enforcement officers. Theamount of the fine is up to the judge, Moak said.

Employers found guilty of hiring illegal immigrants will likewisebe stripped of tax benefits, bonds and grants, and the stateauditor’s office will be charged with recovering any money thestate has invested in that company.

Illegal immigrants found guilty of a non-violent crime would serveone-third of their sentence and then be eligible to be returned totheir country of origin under a federal program, Moak said. If thatillegal immigrant is caught in Mississippi a second time, they willserve the remainder of the sentence with no chance for parole, hesaid.

House leaders removed a provision in the original bill that wouldhave allowed any Mississippi citizen to bring suit against locallaw enforcement agencies or governments suspected of refusing toenforce the immigration law.

Instead, agencies that comply and jail illegal immigrants will bereimbursed $36 per day on a program similar to the money the statesends to local jails for housing state inmates. The latter rate is$20 per day.

“Suing is not the answer,” Moak said. “Let’s say you win. Who getsto pay for it? You do, the local taxpayers.”

The bill now returns to the Senate for review, where it could beamended even more.

“If it was up to me, it’s either take it or leave it,” Moaksaid.

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said Republicanssupported the amended version of the bill in force in order to keepit alive in the Legislature, but not all GOP members are happy withthe House’s changes. She said the bill underwent 55 deletions and43 insertions of new language that she fears has crippled itsability to be enforced.

“For Democrats to walk away from this and say, ‘Well, we passed theimmigration bill,’ no one needs to be fooled by that,” Currie said.”Not everything in it is terrible, but it’s just watereddown.”

Still, Currie – who introduced her own Arizona-style immigrationbill in the House – called the passing of the bill “absolutely astep in the right direction” and commended Moak for the way hehandled the bill on the floor.

“We’ll do what the people of Mississippi want us to do – take careof the illegal immigration problem,” she said. “The federalgovernment won’t do its job, so the states will have to step up anddo theirs.”