State immigration legislation is a complex issue

Published 3:08 pm Thursday, October 7, 2010

While the state Senate Judiciary A Committee held hearings recently on adopting an Arizona-style illegal immigration bill, it quickly became evident that the question of illegal immigration in Mississippi — as in the rest of the U.S. — is more complex than proponents of the law would have us believe.

Former legislator Gene Saucier warned his former legislative colleagues to carefully consider the impact of such legislation on the agriculture industry and other labor intensive industries.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Steve Simpson told lawmakers that his already fiscally stressed agency would struggle with an “unfunded mandate” to enforce such laws requiring additional manpower and training and no additional funding. County and municipal law enforcement agencies would face the same challenges.

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But in Mississippi, the debate over immigration reform centers too much on the immigrant workers and not on the businesses and individuals who systematically break the law by hiring illegal immigrants year in and year out.

The issues raised by the Arizona immigration bill should be prompting serious immigration reform at the federal level. That reform should include securing the borders, strong enforcement and tough sanctions and costly penalties on businesses hiring illegal immigrants and a tough but fair path for immigrants already in the U.S. to become legal.

Mississippi already has moved to crack down on businesses by requiring those with more than 30 workers to use the national E-Verify system to determine legality of hires. It should apply to all businesses and will be expanded to small businesses next year.

Cracking down on hiring illegal immigrants is something that can be done without adopting the extreme provisions of the Arizona law which some claim can lead to racial profiling. That has not been done in this state nor others.

Sadly, immigration has become a hot-button issue in which punitive laws such as Arizona’s are popular politically. But adopting a law similar to Arizona’s is a political, not a practical approach. Mississippi does not need to go down Arizona’s divisive path on this issue. …