JACKSON — About 100 people, including immigrants with small children, yesterday gathered at the Mississippi Capitol to protest an immigration-enforcement bill that many called unfair and inhumane.
The bill is similar to a law enacted in Alabama in 2011, including provisions that would require schools to check students’ immigration status. Alabama’s law is considered one of the toughest immigration-enforcement measures in the nation, and parts of it have been blocked by federal courts, including the student check.
Opponents said if the Mississippi bill becomes law, it could lead to racial profiling that will cause immigrants to flee and could leave crops unpicked.
“The intent of the bill is to drive people of out of Mississippi, Latinos in particular. And we call that ethnic cleansing,” Bill Chandler, director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said during the rally in the Capitol rotunda.
The bill, sponsored by 15 Republican House members, would require immigrants to carry documents showing that they’re legally in the United States. It also would allow law enforcement to check people’s immigration status.
The bill awaits debate in two committees — House Judiciary B and House Education. If it survives, as expected, it will move to the full House for debate.
The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, said she believes the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws. She said she wants to ensure that people have the proper documentation to be in the U.S.
“There are not going to be crops left dead on the vine,” Currie said. “You can come here and work, but be legal.”
Currie was not at the rally Wednesday because she was attending legislative meetings, she said. She has heard criticism of the bill, and she believes detractors are misrepresenting her intentions.
“I would suggest what we have here is Bill Chandler, who, his whole job depends on the fact that we have illegal immigrants. He desperately wants to cling to this job instead of having to go out to find a real job. So, he continues to stir people up,” Currie told The Associated Press. “And I read their mail-out. It said, ‘We encourage you to come and bring your children.’ So, you know, I just feel like they’re being used. They’re being used and they’re being scared, by him. Not by me. By him.”
Kathy Sykes, an organizer for Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance and secretary for the Jackson branch of the NAACP, said she heard a lawmaker say black people should support the law because immigrants are taking jobs that might otherwise go to black residents.
“The only time we had full employment was when we were not getting paid,” Sykes said, referring to slavery. “So do not let someone who has never cared about you or your children influence you to go against your brothers and sisters.”
After the rally Wednesday, groups of immigrants crowded into committee meetings and stopped lawmakers to lobby against the bill.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, got a round of applause from about two dozen immigrants and their advocates after he told them: “I’m on your side.”
“I’m not going to throw anybody out — red, yellow, black or white,” Holland said as he left the group to go into the House chamber.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments March 1 about the Alabama law, which was challenged by the U.S. Justice Department, immigrants’ groups and others.
The bill is House Bill 488.