Miss. bill targets immigrants with fake IDs

Published 11:47 pm Monday, February 9, 2009

With Mississippi being the site of the nation’s largest workplace raid on undocumented workers, lawmakers are trying to crack down on illegal immigrants who obtain false identification for employment.

A bill passed in the Senate and now headed to the House would enhance the penalties for illegal immigrants who create or use false ID.

Currently, a person convicted of those crimes could face up to three years in prison or a $5,000 fine. Under the bill, an illegal immigrant would face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

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The bill also would make it a state crime to transport or shelter an illegal immigrant. Churches, charities, and other nonprofit agencies would be exempt from the law.

The legislation also directs the Mississippi Department of Public Safety to reach an agreement with the federal government to train state troopers on how to handle illegal immigrants.

Sen. Michael Watson, a Republican from Pascagoula, said last year’s raid on Howard Industries revealed some of the practices surrounding illegal immigration in the workplace.

Nearly 600 workers at Howard Industries’ transformer factory in Laurel were rounded up Aug. 25 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Nine people detained in the raid faced federal charges related to identity theft, according to court records.

“A lot of these things are in light of the bust last year,” Watson said. “There were a lot of folks who were transporting those guys in from the border and driving them to their jobs and then giving them false identification.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who has been a strong advocate of anti-immigration laws, said lawmakers “need to send a clear message that crimes of that nature will not be tolerated in Mississippi.”

But Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said the legislation is unnecessary because it duplicates federal law.

He also said ICE hasn’t completed its investigation of the Laurel raid and Watson’s comments were based on rumor.

“The purpose of the bill is to drive Latinos out of Mississippi,” said Chandler.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins, a Democrat from Pass Christian, said illegal immigration is an issue that should be addressed, but she believes the bill is too harsh.

Dawkins was recorded as voting for the bill, but she thought she voted against it.

“When they are recruited to come, they don’t even know they’re supposed to do this and that and the other,” Dawkins said of immigrants. “They get up in the morning and they are just trying to make some money to send home.”

The bill is Senate Bill 2144.