Lawmakers took out several controversial provisions before approving the bill 70-47, including one that required schools collect data on a new student’s immigration status and another that allowed officers to ask a person’s immigration status during a traffic stop. After HB 488 had failed at first, a Republican took out a provision that could have let public utilities refuse service to undocumented immigrants — a federal judge recently blocked the same policy in Alabama — so that legislators would approve it. And before debate had started, they stripped a clause that would have allowed police to arrest people for not carrying identification. But the changes were not enough for opponents of the bill, no matter how many times supporters insisted it was a good measure:
House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, a Braxton Republican, denied opponents’ claims that the measure was racist or immoral, saying it was about enforcing the law. Gipson said he tried to craft a bill that would survive court challenges and allow charity toward migrants.
“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.”
Opponents warned families would be shattered by deportations and that the bill would reinforce outsiders’ stereotypes of Mississippi.
“If we pass this bill, it will set Mississippi back 60 years,” said Rep. Sonya Williams-Barnes, D-Gulfport. “Let us show America we are not the narrow-minded people they say we are.”
Williams-Barnes is right. No matter how many tweaks legislators make, this is still a bad, discriminatory policy that unfairly targets immigrants. Taking out the absolute worst provisions does not change the fact that this bill is designed to make the lives of undocumented immigrants unbearable in Mississippi so that they’ll leave. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Becky Currie (R), has said the goal of the immigration policy is to ensure that all workers are legal, but she clearly has not learned from Alabama’s mistake.
By making the state hostile to immigrants, Alabama is facing billions in economic losses and thousands of jobs gone. Farmers lost their crops without enough workers, and families have suffered greatly.
If the Mississippi Senate does not pass this immigration bill, then the state has a chance to avoid Alabama’s fate. Because as one immigration advocate asked, “Can Mississippi afford such a law?” The state should not have to learn the answer.