The Mississippi House of Representatives passed a bill that would require authorities to crack down on illegal immigration, in keeping with a trend in the South and the West to enact such measures.
The Republican-dominated House voted 70-47 to pass the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act," which requires police to check the immigration status of people who are arrested, and prohibits undocumented residents to renew a driver's license or get a business license, CNN reported Friday.
The bill is likely to be approved also in the state Senate, which too has a majority of Republicans. It was passed after the removal of a clause that provided for police to also check the immigration status of people involved in traffic violations, as well as students at public schools.
Gov. Phil Bryant supports the measure. "Perhaps it's boat-rocking time in Mississippi," he said, according to CNN, at the state Capitol after HB 488 was passed Thursday. In 2010, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated the number of undocumented immigrants to be about 45,000.
Rodney Hunt, chairman of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, said illegal immigration was responsible for eliminating jobs for people who want to provide for their families. "Passing this bill will open up more jobs and lower unemployment for the state," he stated, as reported by CNN.
Opponents, mostly Democrats, criticized the measure, saying it would destroy families. "If we pass this bill, it will set Mississippi back 60 years," Fox News quoted Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes (D-Gulfport) as saying. "Let us show America we are not the narrow-minded people they say we are."
House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, a Republican, denied the claims. "It's about the rule of law," he told House members. "We want to say you're welcome here, we just want you to follow the proper procedures, the proper protocols."
He clarified that if an illegal immigrant is stopped, "that in itself will not trigger this bill. It would require an arrest to be made. If they are found to be unlawful, then they would be deported."
However, opponents say there are other issues. "Your bill has nothing in it to show any kind of compassion or any kind of consideration for the children who are left behind," Rep. Kelvin Buck, a Democrat from Holly Springs, argued. Gipson admitted that that could be a possibility in some cases.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says it will challenge the bill in court. "I would suggest that just because the state can pass that doesn't mean it's a good idea," the group's legal director, Mary Bower, stated, according to CNN. But Gov. Bryant will not deter, according to government spokesperson Mick Bullock.
Several Southern states, including Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, have recently passed similar laws.