Effort to renew Miss. immigration-enforcement ends

Published 2:27 pm Friday, April 6, 2012

A Mississippi House chairman on Thursday abandoned his effort to revive tougher immigration enforcement provisions that included requiring local police to report suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

The issue now appears to be dead this legislative session, but it won’t disappear from political discussion.

“I intend to hold hearings on this in the summer,” House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, said Thursday.

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Earlier this week, an immigration enforcement measure, House Bill 488, was killed by a Senate committee chairman. Gipson said he had hoped to keep the issue alive by putting enforcement provisions into a Senate Bill 2549, which deals with the sale of counterfeit goods.

However, Gipson told the House on Thursday that after consulting with legislative staff attorneys, he determined he might not be successful in putting the provisions into the counterfeit-goods measure.

The House has strict rules against adding subjects to unrelated bills in the midst of a session.

Gipson said supporters of Senate Bill 2549 had told him the sale of counterfeit brake pads, medicine and other items was a problem in immigrant communities, so he originally thought it might be relevant to put immigration enforcement into that bill.

He said staff attorneys told him the subjects were not closely related and his attempted amendment could have been challenged if he had brought the amended bill up for a vote in the full House. A challenge would’ve forced House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, to determine whether the two subjects were closely enough related, and that could’ve put Gunn in a position of angering fellow conservatives who’ve been pushing for an Arizona-style immigration law.

The immigration enforcement bill, House Bill 488, passed the House 70-48 on March 14. It died this week when Senate Judiciary B Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, chose not to bring it up for a vote before a deadline. Tuesday was the final day for House and Senate committees to act on general bills that already had passed the opposite chamber. Bryan said the bill would’ve improperly micromanaged the way local law-enforcement officers do their jobs.

House Bill 488 would’ve required police or deputies to report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement every time they arrest someone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Law enforcement departments that don’t comply could be fined up to $5,000 per day. The bill also would’ve prohibited any illegal immigrant from applying for a driver’s license or business license.

The bill was opposed by several influential business and agriculture groups, including the Mississippi Economic Council and the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. Sheriffs, police chiefs, county supervisors and municipal officials also came out against it, saying they feared the state would put extra duties on local law-enforcement officers without providing enough money to cover the costs of keeping immigrants in local jails.

Immigration enforcement was among the priorities of first-term Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who won tea party support by saying the state should check on immigrants’ status because he believes the federal government has failed to do so.