POLITICS

Mississippi Passes Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement Law

The Mississippi members of the House has passed an enforcement bill that would allow law enforcement officers, during traffic stops and other encounters, to check the immigration status of subject they suspect to be in the country without documents.

It passed the bill 77-40 after a brief explanation and no debate. The vote came nine days after the Senate battled over the immigration bill more than four hours before passing its version 34-15.

People who can't produce documents to show they're U.S. citizens, legal residents or visitors with visas could be jailed. Those found to be in the country without proper documentation eventually could be deported.

Some immigrants, like Tatiana McDonald, were devastated by the news. McDonald, 36, a Colombian native who's now a legal resident in the U.S., said if the bill becomes law, it could tear apart families if parents are deported and their U.S.-born child are taken into state custody.

Further, she worried that the legislation could make her and other Hispanics targets of racial profiling.

"This is horrible. This is shameful," she said on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol Thursday, fighting back tears.

Because the House changed the Senate bill, the two chambers are expected to negotiate in the next several weeks. Both sides must agree on a single version before a bill could go to Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

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.

Barbour can't seek re-election this year but is considering a 2012 presidential run. He said in December that he sees no problem with officers checking immigration status, but he acknowledged that some people who worked on Mississippi's Hurricane Katrina recovery might have been in the U.S. illegally.

The Senate version 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 removes the lawsuits against local government or law enforcement, but would allow suits against employers. Those found hiring undocumented immigrants could face fines of $5,000 to $25,000 a day and could lose state contracts.

The bill's chief sponsor, Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, called the House changes "crazy."

Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said businesses should act responsibly but the fines could kill jobs.

"I don't think the public policy of the state is going to be to drive all businesses all out," Fillingane said.

If the Senate rejects the House changes, three members from each chamber would be appointed to negotiate a final version.

House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, would be one of the negotiators. He voted against the bill Thursday but said he'll consider senators' ideas.

"I'll uphold the House position," Blackmon said.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, voted against the bill because he believes immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.

"The only reason the Senate passed that bill out was to help those people who are running for office, and that's wrong," Bailey said.

Rep. Beckie Currie, R-Brookhaven, has spoken about immigration at tea party meetings. Wearing a "Don't Tread on Me" lapel pin Thursday, Currie said she has no problem with people who follow proper procedures to immigrate to the U.S.

"We're not making 'illegal' illegal," Currie said. "It was already illegal."

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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