Arizona-style immigration bill dies in Mississippi

Published 1:47 pm Thursday, March 31, 2011

The push for a comprehensive anti-immigration bill in Mississippi began with a series of hearings and a rally in opposition, but the measure has quietly died under a legislative deadline.

There appeared to be little serious discussion about a compromise on the bill that was patterned after the law enacted in Arizona in 2010, which gave law enforcement the authority to check a person’s immigration status if officers suspect the person is in the country illegally.

Bill Chandler, head of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said he was happy to see the bill fail in this state because he believed it promoted xenophobia and bigotry and was designed to drive immigrants away.

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“It really is the death of one form of racial profiling,” Chandler said Tuesday.

There was never a meeting of the six negotiators from the House and Senate, Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane said Tuesday, a day after the bill died failed to survive a deadline.

Fillingane said he and House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, had discussed their differences on “Quorum,” a political talk show aired on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television.

“I also ran into him in the hall,” Fillingane said Tuesday. “We did not sit down and conference as a six-member body on any of the Jud A conference reports.”

The Senate version of the bill would’ve allowed people to sue cities, counties or law enforcement officers for allegedly failing to enforce immigration laws. Local officials said such lawsuits could break their budgets.

The House version removed the lawsuits against local government or law enforcement, but would’ve allowed lawsuits against employers. Those found hiring illegal immigrants could face fines of $5,000 to $25,000 a day and could lose state contracts.

Fillingane, the chief sponsor of the bill, said the Senate was willing to let go of the lawsuit language, but he said the fines would have violated federal law.

Blackmon said the Senate never responded to the House’s proposal.

“I don’t know what happened,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon said including the fines was no different from “the whole concept of the Senate bill.” He said the proposal could be challenged in court since it was based on the Arizona law, which the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to invalidate.

“I would rather hear from the courts,” Blackmon said.

Immigration enforcement is a top issue this year for Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who’s courting tea party voters as he runs for governor.

Bryant said Tuesday he was disappointed and called the fines “just a smoke screen by the House.”

“This is an old legislative process where you overload the wagon until it just breaks the axle. They make it so egregious, so difficult to enforce in hopes that it will kill the bill,” Bryant said.

Several other anti-immigration bills also died this session, including those requiring the verification of citizenship to receive public benefits or license plates tags.

Fillingane said his anti-immigration bill was so sweeping there was no need to pass the other smaller bills.

Leaders of several religious faiths were among those opposed to the anti-immigration bill.

The bill is Senate Bill 2179.