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Senate lawmakers approve immigration bill

JACKSON — A Senate committee yesterday cleared a bill — similar to one in Arizona — that would allow police officers who stop people for violations such as speeding or a broken tail light to check their immigration status if there’s reasonable suspicion they are here illegally.

But at least one state lawmaker, Sen. Kelvin Butler, a Democrat from Magnolia, said he’s concerned the bill passed by the Judiciary A Committee would pave the way for more racial profiling.

Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the bill specifically said the immigration check can not be based solely on race or ethnicity. But Butler said “the officer has the right to do whatever he wants to do because he has the gun.”

“I have serious concerns,” said Butler, who is black. “I have boys. I have nephews and I have church members that go through this daily.”

The bill goes next to the full Senate for consideration.

Butler also questioned how much the legislation, which is similar to the law enacted last year in Arizona, would cost the state. Local law enforcement agencies would be tasked with detaining suspects and transporting them to federal authorities who handle immigration issues.

After the committee passed the bill, a crowd of Tea party members and those who oppose illegal immigration applauded.

Under the bill, it’s unlawful to transport or harbor illegal immigrants or to pick them up and hire them for work. Charitable organizations are exempt from the law.

The bill also would penalize employers who are found in violation of the state’s E-Verify law that requires them to check the legal status of workers through a federal database. A first offense would result in the company’s state licenses being suspended for 10 days. With a second offense, all state licenses would be revoked permanently.

Another provision of the bill puts the Attorney General’s Office in charge of enforcing the E-Verify of the proposed law.

Fillingane said if the bill were to be enacted, he would expect a legal challenge.

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