JACKSON — Gov. Phil Bryant said he doesn’t understand some of the opposition that’s developed to an immigration-enforcement bill, particularly from businesses that say they don’t hire illegal immigrants, anyway.
“If they’re not hiring illegal immigrants I am baffled as to why they think this law would be detrimental to their work,” Bryant told reporters in a brief interview yesterday at the Capitol.
Several groups have spoken against the bill this week, including associations representing sheriffs, police chiefs, county supervisors and municipal officials.
Building contractors and several agriculture groups are also against it, as is the influential Mississippi Economic Council, a state chamber of commerce.
“In a recent meeting, our board reaffirmed MEC’s long-standing position of advocating the importance of maintaining a workforce of individuals who are legally employable,” MEC president and CEO Blake Wilson wrote in a letter to senators Wednesday. “In this regard, MEC also supports following federal adopted laws and regulations as the best and most workable means of assuring a legal workforce in Mississippi.”
Bryant, a Republican, was elected with the help of tea party groups that say immigration enforcement is a priority. He’s also been supported by Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform, which says its goal is to protect national sovereignty.
The bill says if someone is arrested and a law enforcement officer has “reasonable suspicion” about the person’s immigration status, the officer would be required to check the immigration status before the person could be released.
The bill passed the House 70-48 on March 14 and faces a deadline next Tuesday for consideration in a Senate committee.
Yesterday, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves assigned the bill to the Judiciary B Committee, where its fate is uncertain.
“Over the past several weeks, I have heard many concerns about House Bill 488 from leaders in law enforcement, cities and counties, the agricultural industry and Mississippi’s business community,” Reeves said in a written statement. “They worry about the bill’s impact on law enforcement activities, local government budgets, agricultural and business operations, and the state’s image.”
Judiciary B Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, took no immediate stance for or against the bill.
“Just like any other bill that comes to the committee, we’ll look at it,” Bryan said.
The governor said he understands that local law enforcement officers are worried that jails could become more crowded if large numbers of immigrants are detained. Officers have also questioned what would happen to relatives of illegal immigrants if the immigrants are detained or deported.
“They’ve got a situation where they’re worried if they stop someone that has a wife and children in the car, does that get Human Services involved,” Bryant said. “But you know that comes into play every time they make an arrest. If I arrest someone for possession with intent to deliver marijuana, and he’s got a wife and children in there, then I still have to go through that process of what do I do with them.”
Among those opposing the bill are the Mississippi Poultry Association, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, Gulf South Blueberry Growers Association, Mississippi Loggers Association, Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association, Mississippi Forestry Association and the state chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is one of the largest and most influential groups in state politics, with more than 200,000 member families in a state with about 2.9 million residents. In the past, the federation has successfully helped defeat ballot initiatives that would’ve put term limits on legislators.
Opposition to the immigration-enforcement bill also came this week from the president of Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association and the executive directors of the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, the Mississippi Municipal League and the Mississippi Association of Supervisors. Together, the four groups sent senators a letter expressing concerns that the immigration bill would put new requirements on cities and counties without state funding to pay for training or additional jail space. The four groups said that could lead local governments to raise taxes.
The bill creates a fund that would reimburse local sheriffs and police chiefs $20 a day for holding illegal immigrants, but it’s unclear whether fines imposed in the bill and other state money would be enough to cover the costs.