Immigration: Myth Vs. Reality | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Immigration: Myth Vs. Reality

Illustrations by Melissa Webster & Darren Schwindaman

Impt. correction is added to end of this story.

"They can vote themselves in a pay raise, but they can't do nothing about all this illegal immigration," says Jackson talk show host 'JT,' of the JT and Dave show, after the House approved a raise for government officials, including a $10,000 raise for in-session work for legislators.

'Yeah, they can be counted on to pay theirselves, but don't expect any new laws changing the state from a sanctuary state,' 'Dave' replied.

Other references to 'illegals' abound on local radio, with callers burning up the lines yelling about 'keeping these people out,' or ranting about how 'illegals' are 'using state welfare,' and 'the border is wide open.'

The issue of illegal immigration in Mississippi is becoming more of a fighting item than the debate over voter ID. The petulant whine of local talk radio turned up the volume on undocumented workers in the last few weeks as the legislative session got underway.

Some Mississippians are demanding the statewide crackdown on the import of labor from other countries, especially in the years following the influx of Latino workers in the state's chicken and meat-processing plants and coastal construction industry. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than 50,000 Latinos lived in the state in 2005, while Immigration and Customs Enforcement estimates the 2005 statewide number to be as high as 90,000.

The numbers regarding exactly how many undocumented residents are in the state are downright shaky because most state agencies do not request that individuals verify their legal status. Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance Executive Director Bill Chandler estimates the population to be more than twice that of ICE estimates, more around 200,000, though the vast majority of that population, he admits, is undocumented and difficult for even MIRA to track. In 2000, Chandler estimated the unofficial population figure to be about 100,000. The state population, by census estimates, averaged about 2.9 million in 2005, so an undocumented population of about 50,000--the middle ground between what the state auditor's office considered the Census Bureau's 2005 estimate of unlicensed immigrants and MIRA's claims for that same year--would comprise roughly 1.8 percent of the entire state population. (If Chandler's estimate of 200,000 Latinos is right, the currently un-counted population would up Census' Mississippi population from 2.9 million to more than 3 million and increase the census' estimate of the Latino population from about 1.8 to 6.5 percent.)

According to the numbers that are officially tallied, the state's Latino population was already on the rise in 1990--creeping up from the Census Bureau's starting figure of about 16,000--as food-processing plants and the casino industry moved to keep labor costs down.

Facing increased costs from raw produce and fuel prices, meat-processing companies such as Cook Foods--formerly BC Rogers--resorted to importing employees to process birds throughout the last decade. The tactic compared slightly to the time-honored American manufacturing tradition of shipping jobs overseas, except without having to build a new factory and arrange new permits on the far end of some ocean. It kept costs down and food products competitively priced, eventually helping to expand poultry production into one of the state's most profitable industries, even overtaking the state's esteemed cotton industry. The tactic also overwhelmingly expanded the Latino footprint in modestly populated Scott County towns like Morton and Forest.

But a new immigrant explosion ensued on the Coast after Hurricane Katrina, as the construction industry followed in poultry's footsteps. Construction companies realized that they, too, could keep building costs low and bid more competitively for plum contracts by working foreign laborers at a discount that was outright un-American, according to some union representatives.

'Employers have used illegal immigrants to get filthy-fricking rich,' said David Newell, president of the Mississippi Building and Construction Trade and a field representative of the United Association for Plumbers and Pipefitters. 'They hire these people at a suppressed wage with no benefits, and sometimes they don't pay any Social Security or income tax on them, so they can hire them at a third of the price of what they'd have to pay any other native Mississippian. It was a sweet deal for them, and they jumped into the damn process so wholeheartedly that they've gone and changed the whole employment structure in some regions of the state.'

Lowering labor
It was a cheap-as-dirt labor free-for-all, in some opinions, and not all of it honest. Former Nissan employee Daniel Dotta, formerly of Ecuador, told the Jackson Free Press he was bilked into abandoning an $11-an-hour Nissan job in 2005 for what panned out to be a $7-an-hour job in Biloxi cleaning up storm debris for BFI Waste Services. Dotta said a recruiter had promised him princely wages for construction work outside Biloxi. By the time he discovered the lie, the Nissan job--contracted through Yates Services, of Jackson--was long gone, and he and his wife and daughter were facing eviction from property supplied through BFI.

Local businesses initially argued that immigrants were needed to shore up labor shortfalls in the construction industry that the sheer size of Katrina had left, but Newell said the industry isn't feeling the need to decelerate immigrant labor now that the industry is leveling. In fact, the method is so profitable that it's still putting union members out to pasture.

'As of today we've recruited 317 members of the inner-city youth, and we ain't got a damn one of them working because of illegal aliens and Mexicans taking all the construction jobs. The people we've recruited either aren't working, or we have to ship them out of town to get jobs,' Newell said.

The Plumbers and Pipefitters Association entered into an agreement with the city of Jackson in 2006 to train at-risk inner city youth for high-paying construction jobs--a Melton campaign promise. The union agreed to finance the training through union bank accounts, at no cost to either the students or the city, in exchange for a place to work the newbies on local development in the city. So far, local development won't include them.

'Look at all the construction downtown. You got that Yates Construction job on the Federal Courthouse. It's covered up with Mexicans. The Pinnacle Development downtown, Mr. Leland Speed's little project. That's primarily immigrant work. Yates will not hire any of our folks because they're from this part of the country,' Newell spat.

Yates Construction and former MDA Executive Director Leland Speed did not return calls for comment.

Newell said the city of Jackson has so far refused to press contractors into employing union workers, even though the union signed a partnership specifically with the city council and the mayor's office to encourage union participation.

'We were supposed to meet with Mayor (Frank) Melton this morning, but he cancelled that meeting. He and the powers that be just won't lean on some of these people coming into the city and doing these jobs to give us an opportunity to work with them. Instead, they'll let them import Mexicans to do the job, so the inner-city people remain unemployed, and the tax base in the city continues to crumble,' Newell said.

Melton, reached at a Feb. 1 press conference, said he'd skipped the meeting with Newell that same day because of 'health issues,' and assured the Jackson Free Press that he would speak to Newell soon. Newell confirmed no such meeting scheduled by the mayor as of Feb. 13.

A Question of Morals
John Sullivan, board administrator for the Mississippi branch of American Subcontractors Association, said he is wary of the problems of unchecked illegal immigration to the state, but added that migrant workers fill a desperate need.

'We're not just talking about people who do grunt work for nothing. We're talking about people who are dedicated because of a strong moral and work ethic that they've established years ago. I don't want to beat on the American work force, but in some sectors we've lost a little of that work ethic, so when these individuals come in and they challenge the decaying behavior models that most of our contractors have become accustomed to, then you have a significant chance of that person being hired over a local,' he said.

'An immigrant has to bring a service to the table that is not found locally, even if that service is just the ability to buckle down and get to work.'

Sullivan said the subcontractors he represents are reputable employers who are not looking to work people at slave wages. In fact, the vast majority of subcontractors are willing to settle for employees who can show up sober, and not vanish the day after getting paid.

'Most times, we just want someone stable who will show up and do the job, who is willing to stay with the company and grow with it. We're willing to pay for the experience they accrue,' Sullivan said, adding that most employers would be crazy to reject a stable workforce.

Which is just fine with Chandler, who deep down in his crusty union heart, would like nothing more than an immigrant work force that would get stable, and organize.

'A work force that is easily identified and stable can be unionized,' Chandler said. 'That's the goal we'd like everybody to achieve.'

Chandler used Newell's issue with Yates as a classic example. 'Maybe there is a lot more migrants doing the work downtown. I'm not gonna argue that, but Newell's solution to that needs to be to go out to those workers and get them to join the union. Talk to them and get them involved. We've got 5,000 casino workers organized in Mississippi alone. I was a part of that effort, and it worked,' Chandler said, adding that the same tactic also worked in the food-processing industry of Scott County, despite the ridiculously high turnover rate for a chicken-plucker.

'The food-processing plants in Scott and up in Canton and some other places were primarily organized through African Americans, but as those workers were replaced by Latinos, those union people reached out to the new workers and got them engaged in the struggle to strengthen the union. There's no reason that construction workers, regardless of country of origin, cannot be unionized. The bosses at Yates aren't ever going to be able to move construction offshore, just like they're not going to move food processing and the casino industry offshore,' Chandler said.

Chandler said if you unionize the workers--even the brown ones--you'll soon have immigrant wages and job benefits that most U.S. workers would happily adopt, making them more competitive. The wages commonly generated by the average Mississippi immigrant worker is enough to land a lease for a North Jackson apartment--so long as they don't mind sharing it with an average of six roomies. That's the reality of the pay, according to immigrant activists, and most Americans won't settle for it. Get rid of the wage and benefits gap between migrant workers and American natives, however, and the issue of migrant-choked worksites evaporates, Chandler argues.

Even Sullivan, hardly an avid union fan, said his people would have to tolerate a union presence if the laborers grew stable enough to adopt one.

'Extra costs are just part of the industry, unfortunately,' Sullivan said.

But, according to union types, the brunt of the immigrant influx in almost every state across the nation stems from industries' past unwillingness to pay living wages. The solution, therefore, remains primarily in businesses' willingness to finally commit to higher pay--which, naturally, will be passed along to the consumer.

Do You Really Want it Fixed?
It's an issue of how far Americans are truly willing to go to stop the flow. Plug the border, and industries that absolutely, positively cannot pay living wages take a belly flop. If they commit to living wages, the price on many American-made items will rise. A gallon of store-brand milk is knocking on the $5 ceiling in many stores, much of that due to higher gas prices. Factor in the extra cost of paying a living wage to grunt workers, and Americans may see a lot fewer cornflakes on their table in the morning.

'There's no doubt in my mind that 'solving' the immigration problem will make prices will go up. When you pay the wages that unions and other Americans want, then obviously those cost increases are going to be passed on in the prices of the goods; otherwise the firm goes out of business,' said John D. Kasarda, an economics professor at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, a division of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Kasarda is author of the 2006 report, 'The Economic Impact of the Hispanic Population on the State of North Carolina.' (PDF, 4.5 MB)

'I don't like to use the word 'living wage,' but the salaries and wages of Hispanics are lower than others. We found that if all the Hispanics left the industry and had been replaced by non-Hispanics in construction industry jobs, the North Carolina construction industry would've had to pay almost $1 billion more in wages and salaries. Now, there's two ways you can look at that. You can look at it as 'wage suppression,' or you could look at it as 'cost competitiveness.' If you're a union person, you'd say this was wage suppression. If you're a business-owner, you'd phrase it the other way,' Kasarda said.

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant is willing to strike a blow for either wage suppression or cost competitiveness in Mississippi--however you choose to phrase it--by holding state businesses accountable for hiring undocumented workers. Bryant is backing bills in the Senate that would require some employers to check employees' documentation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's E-verify system, and cut state contracts to businesses with undocumented employees.

Bryant, while he was state auditor, incited a political riot of immigrant-phobia in 2006 with the publication of his report 'The Impact of Illegal Immigration on Mississippi: Costs and Population Trends.' The report, a reference point for his campaign for lieutenant governor, and the campaigns of others running for statewide and district offices, proved to be a marvelous tool for rousing white rural and bedroom-community voters.

Pedro, His Money and You
One of the more incriminating numbers expressed in Bryant's report involves the cost illegal immigrants impose upon the state economy. Bryant concluded in the report that illegal immigrant households have an overall negative financial effect on the state economy.
The state makes no real endeavor to calculate the number of undocumented workers, so Bryant concedes in his report that he must settle on a mid-point between population estimates: the low end being the 8,000 figure he estimated as the Census Bureau's figure on illegal Latinos and 100,000 estimated by 'pro-illegal immigrant advocates.'

Using that mid-level population figure, Bryant estimated that an 49,000 'illegals' added about $44.2 million to the state in income and sales tax.

The report also estimates, however, that that same population sends $135 million back home to family members, representing a little more than $10 million in sales tax lost to the state. After accounting for taxes paid, Bryant's report claims illegal immigrants cost the state about $25 million, which Bryant says does not include state services such as Medicaid, workers compensation 'and other social welfare programs.'

These figures exploded into the state's political atmosphere like a fart in an elevator, creating high-quality red-meat talking points for podium speeches and talk radio alike. But Bryant himself admits the figures are incomplete.

'Due to time constraints and limitations of scope, this report should not be considered a comprehensive study of the issue of illegal immigrants and their cost to government, but rather it should be viewed as a snapshot of the estimated impact illegal immigrants residing in Mississippi,' the report states in its preface.

In fact, Bryant bemoans the scant information available to authors throughout the 30-page document.

Bryant's net loss, for example, makes no account of ad valorem taxes the state and municipalities collect as a result of immigrant residency. The total ad valorem assessment for all Mississippi counties in 2005, according to information from the Mississippi Tax Commission, was just over $21 billion, including real property classes 1 and 2 and personal property class 3.

Bryant concedes in his own report that the Mississippi State Tax Commission does not collect information related to immigration status because immigrants would have to report themselves as undocumented for the record to be made. And that is not happening, Bryant says in the report, because 'if (the tax commission) determines (filers) are illegally working in Mississippi, they will be reported to the appropriate federal authorities.'

But immigrants, no matter how illegal, still have to pay rent like anybody else, and the apartment complexes in North Jackson and Ridgeland are blossoming with immigrant renters paying their landlords immigrant dollars. The landlord, in turn, then divvies up the required percentage of his revenue to the tax commission. Ad valorem taxes move ahead.

Using very shaky math, .054 of the state's population (Bryant's mid-level immigrant population estimate on his report) potentially could contribute an average of $11 million to the state's $21 billion ad valorem revenues for 2005. Up that figure to higher estimates of 100,000 illegal immigrants (about 1.11 percent of the state's population according to Bryant's estimate), and illegal immigrants could potentially be contributing an average of $233 million in ad valorem taxes.

The above estimate, of course, can't take into account how many immigrant roomies are piled into one ad valorem-generating apartment, and it can't account for employers who house their own immigrant work force in (often sub-standard) company-owned housing, similar to the kind routinely raided by authorities in Canton.

Still, as Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters when asked his reason for opposing the grocery tax reduction: 'I think everybody ought to pay some tax,' and damned if everybody doesn't in modern Mississippi.

Kasarda and other economists argue that income tax is actually just a side item on the government's dinner table. Most U.S. residents--legal or not--are revenue sinks. They cost more than they contribute when it comes to taxes, whether they're named Pedro or Betty Sue.

'The fact of the matter is most groups have a negative impact (on state taxes) because most groups have a negative balance,' said Kasarda. 'Most government would go bankrupt if it were entirely dependent upon individual taxes. But it's OK, because most state budgets are not just balanced on the contributions of residents but on corporate taxes and transfers from Washington.'

Government Gets Its Dime
Kasarda's report, compiled for a coalition of North Carolina banks, estimated that Hispanics in that state (both documented and undocumented) annually contribute about $756 million in direct and indirect taxes, while costing the state budget about $817 million for K-12 education ($467 million), health care ($299 million) and corrections ($51 million)--for a net cost to the state of about $61 million. No big news there. The numbers are similar for all of us.

However, the UNC report also shows that North Carolina Latinos' after-tax income--even after subtracting 20 percent remittance payments to family members in Latin America--still had a positive total economic impact of $9.2 billion on the state.

'Sixty-one million in costs--$9.2 billion in economic impact. I think North Carolina is getting along better for its immigrant contribution, despite the numbers on individual revenue tax,' Kasarda said.

George Washington University Professor Leigton Ku referred to the unsung revenue as a 'multiplier effect.'

'Whenever there's some economic activity, there are spin-offs, and that spin-off is apparent regarding immigrant workers. Part of the reason undocumented immigrants are employed in the construction industry, in many cases, is that they're a cheaper labor force. They are capable, and they're 25 percent less expensive than a citizen worker,' said Ku, explaining that this means the resulting house or office building ends up being 25 percent less expensive.

'You can build more houses because of that reduced price, and there's more economic activity that spins off because you're building more houses. The savings a person gets as a result of buying a cheaper building generates other economic value for the system.'

The office of the Texas comptroller of public accounts came to a similar conclusion in 2006 after painstakingly tallying numbers from the bigger picture. The 2000 Census reported that Texas' Hispanic population surged 54 percent from 1990 to 6.7 million--60 percent of that state's population increase. That kind of footprint deserved some paperwork, and the resulting report set off a firestorm of anger from nativists.

'Undocumented Immigrants in Texas: A Financial Analysis of the Impact to the State Budget and Economy' estimated that the state of Texas spent $1.1 billion in education, health care and incarceration costs in 2005, but generated $1.5 billion in state revenue, including revenue from school property tax, for a net impact of about $424.7 million that year. It also estimated immigrants' impact on the state economy as generating about $17.7 billion in gross state product.

Health-care Myths
The airwaves and Internet are filled with talking points disparaging the impact the illegal immigrant community has upon the state's health services.

'llegals run up high costs in government services, from medical care at hospitals to costs in schools. These services (go) to people who do not pay the taxes that support those services,' blogged Keith Burton of Gulf Coast News. 'If you want to see what illegal immigration has done, look at California and see what their citizens pay in taxes.'

Bryant also addresses illegal immigrants' impact upon the state's health industry, saying the 'increase of the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. has very serious hidden medical costs.' The OSA report references the American Hospital Association's report that member facilities provided $21 billion in uncompensated health-care services in 2002.

He reported: 'While not all of these costs are attributed to illegal immigrants, a recent study by the RAND Corporation found that 68 percent of the undocumented immigrant adults they studied had no health insurance.'

Based on RAND findings, Bryant estimated that $35 million of the $504 million in state hospital costs for uninsured patients may be attributed to illegal immigrant costs. The report is quick to follow up that statement with the line: 'However, because no data regarding immigration status is collected, it is difficult to determine the accuracy of this estimate, especially since Mississippi has a large number of uninsured and under insured people.'

Ku said there needs to be a better connection than that: 'They come up with an estimate of $35 million in health-care costs on illegal immigrants, but they don't say a darn word about how they came up with that. They say there's an estimate by the Mississippi Hospital Association that there's half a billion dollars in funds spent for the uninsured, then they say, 'therefore, we decide that $35 million is spent on illegal immigrants.''

There is actually only one genuine record of how much the state is spending on health care for uninsured illegal immigrants here. A federal program, called Section 1011, provides direct payments from the federal government to eligible providers for emergency room-related care for undocumented immigrants. Hospitals essentially use it to go whining to the federal government for payback for the money they lost to all those deceitful, bill-dodging immigrants in the emergency room.

The federal government allocated $334,000 to Mississippi between May 10, 2005, and June 30, 2007, for uninsured immigrant emergency room service, but Mississippi didn't spend everything the feds gave it. Mississippi hospitals only used about $208,000 of that money, leaving roughly $126,000 of the federally allocated cash untouched.

"'That's how much, out of a nationwide pot of $437 million, that Mississippi was allocated.' That's the only documented costs, as far as I can tell, that shows over a period of about a year and a half how much Mississippi spent on health care for illegal immigrants. That is way different from (Bryant's) $35 million,' Ku said.

Of course, the $208,000 figure does not take into account hospitals' failure to qualify for some disbursements due to bungled filing or lack of proof of the patient's undocumented status, but neither does it consider the inflated charges that they wring out of the federal government in the name of uninsured emergency-room visitors.

'Hospitals calculate charge amounts. This is basically what we'd like to charge people. That's not the same as how much it actually costs, and that's not how much insurers would've paid for it. Typically a charge cost is two to three times higher than the amounts that insurers would actually pay for that same service. Heck, I would like to be paid $10,000 for an appendectomy, but the insurer will only pay me $3,000. But they might still tell the government, 'we did an appendectomy for a person who was uninsured, and our charge was $10,000. We've lost $10,000 on this person,' but that doesn't mean they actually lost $10,000 doing that $3,000 appendectomy.'

The Real Medicaid Story
Talk radio and political ads abound with accusations of a surging flood of illegal immigrants all piling into their 30-year old El Caminos and flying across the border to take advantage of America's overly generous social-care system. The feeling is reflected in several anti-illegal immigrant bills coming out of Mississippi Senate committees this year, virtually all authored by Republicans. House Bill 298, authored by Rep. Ted Mayhall, R-Southaven, prohibits all public assistance to illegal immigrants, as do House Bills 350, 352 and 400. The Senate has its own versions, with Senate Bill 2279 expressly dedicated to restricting public benefits to undocumented workers, as do Senate Bills 2564 and 2524.

The reality of the matter, however, is that few undocumented immigrants are eligible for benefits in the first place. Bryant inadvertently aired this reality in his report by saying the state does a shoddy job of recording illegal immigrant data, and has a habit of clumping together information regarding both documented and undocumented workers.

The report states: 'For example, the Mississippi Department of Medicaid determined eligibility on approximately 300 aliens (no distinction between legal and illegal) from January 2005 through December 2005. Since May 2004, the Miss Dept. of Human Services reports 30 illegal immigrant adults and 10 illegal immigrant children who attempted to apply for food stamps and TANF assistance--they were identified and denied.'

'The fact that there were only 30 (adults) over the course of a year in Mississippi who were undocumented immigrants trying to access benefits is a headline in and of itself,' said Randy Capps, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute's Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population. 'How many undocumented workers are you supposed to have there? 8,000? 100,000? And you're saying only 30 tried to get into the system? That it's only a handful of people tells me that they're not even trying to use those kinds of benefits.'

Capps, a demographer specializing in immigrant populations, explained that state benefits require federal money, and the federal government demands state officials meticulously catalogue documentation before it hands over its money.

'Getting benefits is not like getting a job. In getting a job you just provide the documentation and they copy it and put it in a file. To get federally funded public benefits you have to get documentation and enter it into a computer system and if it comes back wrong they can't get the benefits. The fact that they only caught that many says not too many are applying for Medicaid, for welfare and for TANF in the first place. That was a major finding of the study that's just not broadcast,' Capps said.

'Tomorrow We Vote'
The battle lines are drawn in the illegal immigrant debate, despite the dodgy information on exactly how much damage illegals are doing the state, if any. Those lines are clearly sitting between Republicans and Democrats, both on the local and the national level.

In 2005, U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., authored H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act. The House approved the bill by a 239-to-182 partisan vote.

U.S. Rep. Tom Delay, R-Texas, was being pushed out of office under a cloud of embarrassment, and Republicans were desperately sniffing around for a new wedge issue, something with the same mileage as gay marriage, preferably.

Sombreros, again, came to mind.

H.R. 4437 authorized the construction of an additional 700 miles of security fencing, required the implementation of an electronic verification system to be used by all employers to ensure hired workers were legal residents, and imposed a $7,000 per violation fine for employers failing to comply with the verification procedure. The fine jumps to as high as $40,000 per violation the third time around.

More dramatically, the bill upgraded illegal entry into the country from a misdemeanor to a felony, and made anybody housing an undocumented worker a felon.

All of a sudden, brothers, sisters and cousins who were legal U.S. residents were in jeopardy of doing jail time for having the wrong roommate. The outcry exploded as thousands of Hispanics marched on the U.S. Capitol and in state capitols across the nation. H.R. 4437 later died in conference, as the House and Senate were biting their nails too hard to agree on compromise legislation for the controversial bill. But the damage was already done on a national level.

William Ramos, director of the Washington D.C., office of the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said Latinos' message to Congress during the 2006 march on Washington was clear.

'This anti-immigrant discussion translated to Latinos as anti-Latino,' Ramos said. 'The chant back then when we marched was, 'today we march, but tomorrow we vote.''

And so far, polls say that vote isn't swinging Republican in the November election.

'The Pew Hispanic Center just released a nationwide poll that showed that 57 percent of Hispanic registered voters call themselves Democrats or lean Democratic, while just 23 percent consider themselves aligned with the Republican Party. That's a 34 percent gap. In July 2006, the gap was only 21 points. That's a 13 percent swing since July 2006. Back in 1999 it was 33-points, so it's gotten back to where it was since President Bush made inroads in the Latino community,' said Brent Wilkes, national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, in Washington. 'All those inroads, obviously, have been eroded.'

The noise of talk radio isn't helping, either, with repeated diatribes against 'illegals.'

'Limbaugh, (Sean) Hannity, etc., are all a symptom of a part of the Republican Party turning sharply toward the anti-immigration side, and they're killing the party on the national level. The folks who are most animated about immigration were already voting Republican, so that anger didn't deliver (any new votes) during the last elections,' said Douglas Rivlin of the National Immigration Forum.

'What they did was fire up the Latino vote and push away moderates who might be more sympathetic toward immigration reform, and drive people to seek citizenship and vote in the next election. Did I mention that we've had a record number of applications for citizenship last year?'

Gov. Haley Barbour, whose perspective transcends the state level, is staying above the fray, saying the issue should be addressed on the national level. Another exception to the 'New Southern Strategy' was former Sen. Trent Lott, who stood up to anti-immigrant talk radio and senators like John Cornyn, R-Texas, and David Vitter, R-La, in supporting 2007 immigration reform.

'(Lott seemed) to be looking ahead to the future of the GOP, which simply can't remain politically viable if it spends so much time attacking the fastest-growing group of American voters,' Rivlin said.

But the national Latino population, according to Census estimates (again not including undocumented immigrants who deliberately dodged Census workers) was 14.8 percent. In Mississippi, the official population estimate is under 2 percent. It is nothing comparable to a voting bloc, and very useful for those times when you need a good oppressed minority to knock around.

Most of the anti-illegal immigrant bills sifting through state House and Senate committees come from Republican authors, while Democrats claim almost exclusive authorship of bills sympathetic to immigrants. But even Mississippi Democrats took their fair share of swings at the rhetorical pinata. During their campaigns, Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Arthur Eaves both advocated reform that MIRA interpreted as anti-immigrant.

Blount's campaign mailed out a flyer beating his Republican opponent for not doing anything about illegal immigration. 'Illegal immigration is costing jobs for Mississippians. And Richard White is doing nothing,' Blount's campaign wrote.

Blount, whose priority is improving education and crime control, has authored no anti-illegal immigrant bills in the 2008 legislative session. He says he signed one Senate bill demanding that employers doing business with the state verify employee legal status.

'In a lot of southern states and some Midwest states they've had a relatively new influx of Latinos. The influx is in its early stages, so if they're here with papers they're not eligible for citizenship yet, and if they're here without papers there's no way they're going to become citizens, so they're not a voting bloc that politicians need to pay much attention to. Some politicians can even feel that firing up an angry base is going to payoff more than folks that they might be driving away,' Rivlin said.

But what the state does with immigration will ultimately affect more than just immigrants, according to Sullivan. The business community may not speak out directl--but you can bet they'll be watching from the shadows, and fearing the outcome.

'The immigrant issue will touch us all,' Sullivan said. 'Look at the ones going after employers who don't check employees' records. If you got a guy out in the field, he probably won't have a laptop. And some guy shows up with two other guys who want to work, and you're five men short and desperate, what are you going to do? In our world, we're not paid unless the contractor's paid, and the contractor won't get paid if our job's not finished. We're way down on the food chain, but we'll feel it, sure enough.'

CORRECTION: In the above story, reporter Adam Lynch incorrectly calculated former State Auditor Phil Bryant's estimate of 49,000 undocumented immigrants to represent .054 percent of the state's population, and that .054 percent represents $11 million of the state's total $21 billion in property taxes generated for Fiscal Year 2005. However, 49,000 individuals actually represent 1.7 percent of the state's total population of 2,844,658, based upon 2000 Census demographic figures for Mississippi. Management has asked the reporter to recalculate these numbers and do an updated analysis based on correct information and calculations. We apologize for these errors.

Previous Comments

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82211
Comment

This can be couched in either an "racists" approach or an "unchristian" approach. There are illegal or undocumented workers in this state, period, the terms, depend on your political bend or definitions. There are less of the above (not giving titles ) than in any border state. I will say, if there is a serious push to remove either "illegal aliens or undocumented workers" from this state. The solution to remove "undocumented or illegals is not to punish the workers, punish the employers. Why do construction companies/large corporations/ anyone hire someone who they think may be in the country illegally? Because the company can pay less than minimum wage, or less than a fair wage, avoid health insurance, taxes and often legal consequenses. These companies know that if someone is hurt who would be concerned if officials are involved will forget claims or avoid being noticed. If people wanted to end illegal immigration the solution is not to punish the workers that come to get jobs; it is to harshly punish the employers that exploit these people, knowing they can pay them less than anyone else with no fear. If it is too costly to do business with people here illegally or without documentation, things change, if it is still profitable for businesses, things stay the same

Author
AGamm627
Date
2008-02-21T01:08:07-06:00
ID
82212
Comment

Agamm is right. This is shortsighted politically for the Republicans, as Adam points out in the story. Not only are they alienating an important voting bloc--Latinos--but the only real way to do anything about illegal immigration is to target the business community. And the GOP calls itself the pro-business party (which is a misnomer, in my opinion, but that's a different topic). Also, as I point out in my editor's note this week, if you crunch in the real facts about illegal immigrants' effect on our economy, it is probably very unwise to deport them from an economic standpoint. So one has to ask these proponenets of deportation (and these stupid candidates using immigration as a hateful wedge issue)--do you care enough about the economics of it to try to get to the bottom of what is really happening? If not, and it's not REALLY about economics to you, what does that make you? What are really doing other pushing hate? BTW, ignorance of the facts is no excuse. Any ethical person would look for the real facts before running on an anti-immigration platform. If you don't look for the real facts, you don't deserve to shovel garbage on our behalf.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-21T10:39:46-06:00
ID
82213
Comment

Great job, Adam. I learned a lot reading this, and your wit really came out on this one.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-02-21T11:02:33-06:00
ID
82214
Comment

Here are a couple good stories about the anti-illegal furor from two of the best alternative papers out there: Texas Observer: Holes in the Wall (how Homeland Security's border fences are skipping property of the rich. Williamette Week: He's an... Illegal Eh-lien

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-21T14:36:11-06:00
ID
82215
Comment

The Holes in the Wall is not very surprising. The gov't has always let the money influence what the do. I remember in the late 80's the BLM stopped the Barstow to Vegas desert race because they might kill a few Desert Tortoise but 6 months later let developers to actually go out and kill 100's of them so they could build casinos. Money talks. It is wrong that guy is ignored because he is not Mexican but he still needs to be sent back to Canada.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2008-02-21T15:18:14-06:00
ID
82216
Comment

Thanks for showing a side to the immigration debate that is not often heard. In the past few years, I've taken the opportunity to talk with quite a few undocumented immigrants and hear their stories. Each has come to the United States for the same reason; they felt they had no real opportunity at home. They hardships they have undertaken in order to seek a better life include physical risks, long separations from spouses and children, discrimination, persecution by local police, language barriers, and more. And, to my surprise, I found that most struggled with the morality of their choice to to immigrate to the US illegally. Even though I do not have to make that choice myself, I struggle with the moral question too. Ultimately, in spite of the law, I cannot condemn someone for seeking the American dream. What I do understand of economics is this: as long as Latinos and other potential immigrants, whether documented or not, see no opportunity at home, there will be undocumented immigrants here. Instead of spending so much money on fences that do not work, detention centers that separate families, and starting ill-advised wars, we ought to focus on helping to create real opportunities for those who have none. Then they will be able to seek the American dream without having to leave home.

Author
Tim S
Date
2008-02-22T23:28:15-06:00
ID
82217
Comment

I agree with AGamm about going after the businesses who employ them. It's just like an ant mound: to kill it off, you don't just kill the regular ants. Kill the queen, that's when it's destroyed. All the rhetoric about building a wall isn't going to solve it. I don't ever hear talk of building a wall at the Canadian border, which does lead to the argument that the illegal immigration rhetoric is all about racism and xenophobia. I don't know if it would help, but I think the federal government needs to look at streamlining the process it takes to become a citizen. From my understanding of it, it can be rather time-consuming (several years for many), though they have a tendency of speeding it up during presidential election years.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2008-02-23T11:45:53-06:00
ID
82218
Comment

AGamm, the reason you don't hear about building a wall on the Canadian border is the you don't have millions of undocumented Canadians in the U.S. (less than 100,000 according to the article Donna posted) , so it's not a big a problem as the Mexican border.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2008-02-23T13:54:11-06:00
ID
82219
Comment

Just spent a couple days reading this one. Lynch brings up some stuff I hadn't thought about it... I may not end up agreeing with it all but it's good to have this out there. I had to chuckle though as I was plowing through it. Tom Head is over on another blog blasting ladd trying to say the jfp is just a little 'fondren entertainment' rag. how funny. This here is some entertainment story. And that one last time about AIDS was a barrel of laughs. Made me want to go out to a bar and drink immediately!! Is every blog around here a mini jfp fan club?? Ya'll know how to keep them talking about you 24-7. What's the secret?? lol ...

Author
gipper
Date
2008-02-24T12:39:53-06:00
ID
82220
Comment

Hey, as they say, all publicity is good publicity (even if the folks who click over looking for nothing but Fondren entertainment and find immigration and race debates might be a tad disappointed). But the fun fluff stuff is there, too; it's just not front and center (in print, we call it "back of the book," and it's vital to help our local businesses thrive, and young, active readers need to know where to go out in Jackson). When we started back in 2002, before the Ledger pulled its Weekend section out to try to compete with us, as we predicted they would do in our business plan (and basing their ad rates on ours), most of their "Best Bets" sent people out of the city! They've gotten better about that, too, I'm happy to report. Of course, we're a "smaller," more niche paper than the CL, although not that much in this area. *Their* readership audit showed that we have 65,000 readers, and their statewide circulation comes in less than 100,000. They do a bit over 20,000 copies in Jackson. And our readers are active influentials, from every zip code in the city and beyond, about half black and half white, with all kinds of political views, and they care about news, investigative reporting, economic development and leaving their homes to be involved in the city. In the journalism industry, you call a paper such as ours a "megaphone" because we have such a strong readership among elected officials, decision-makers and other media. We've never been an "entertainment paper"; that section is about a third of our paper, which is a "newspaper," or "newsweekly," as our industry calls it. We go more indepth than daily media on issues of our choosing, and we can break news daily online. The alt-weekly business/readership model is exactly that: the best writing and in-depth narratives and investigative stories and independent opinion pieces, alongside the more detailed entertainment listings and coverage, in one newsweekly in a given city. And the quality of our online discussions are so good because we have a different, more educated readership than corporate daily. They hate papers like ours from a business standpoint because our Media Audit numbers can show advertisers exactly how well we do against their individual sections, down to how many of our readers went out to a good dinner and had wine last week (we beat them on that, of course). We're also now the largest weekly in Jackson, not to mention the largest in the state. All that said, I just realized we're on an immigration thread, and I'm reeling way off-topic. So let's return it to immigration, post-haste. Please start a forum topic, or go to the one I just posted on my blog about the CL, if you want to talk about this further. As you can tell, I don't mind sharing the facts on any of this, not that most people don't already know what the jfp is all about, including the folks who get off on trying to trivialize us, which in turn does anything but. Now, I'm headed to an offline Sunday. Ciao.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-24T13:00:10-06:00
ID
82221
Comment

BTW, we're thrilled to see this a.m. that his, er, fluffy entertainment story, along with intern Melissa Webster's cover art, is the featured piece on the Altweeklies site. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-25T10:15:43-06:00
ID
82222
Comment

From MIRA: From: MIRA News [mailto:miranews@bellsouth.net] Sent: Monday, February 25, 2008 7:38 PM Subject: GREAT VICTORY! Hello Human Rights Supporters: Great news - the legislation to create a task force to study the impact of immigrants on poverty in Mississippi (HB 1327) - passed out of the House this afternoon! Introduced by Reps. Reecy Dixon and Bryant Clark, and handled on the floor by Rep. Robert Johnson, the bill was sent on to the Senate by 81 Representatives. Keep up the good work and keep the calls, letters, and e-mails coming! MISSISSIPPI IMMIGRANTS RIGHTS ALLIANCE

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-02-26T11:53:06-06:00
ID
82223
Comment

Just checked back in on this, Bubba, Please read the posts, I mentioned nothing about a wall, nothing about the Canadian border, or the Mexican border, I am sure your retort was intended at golden eagle, but please, read a little. Again, the problem is not nationality. I agree it is a problem if a country cannot control its borders. There needs to be enforcement of the laws of our country, however curtailing illegal immigration from the states perspective needs to be removing the incentive from business from hiring workers. One bill that makes me scratch my head denies illegal/undocumented workers from being able to receive worker's compensation benefits. How does this deter the COMPANY that hires them? If you are trying to cut costs and don't care, wouldn't this encourage you to hire illegal/undocumented workers so you don't have to pay for worker's compensation insurance at all? Seriously, just because an individual is illegal/undocumented doesn't mean it is fair game to hurt him or her. The worker should get comp (which is the lowest in the South East, and one of the lowest rates in the nation) and the company should be HAMMERED in fines and penalties. That is a solution, not giving businesses the encouragement to hire illegal/undocumented workers knowing they can avoid taxes, minimum wage, and now, liability for injury AGamma627

Author
AGamm627
Date
2008-03-04T00:06:50-06:00
ID
82224
Comment

Opps my reply was to golden eagle and not you. But more illegal immigrates do come across the Mexican border than the Canadian border. I worked crews out of Mexico in the cotton gin business for 15+years and never had any problems. They all had green cards or work visas. I usually had more workers wanting to work than I had jobs for. Never did hire illegals. Your right businesses that do hire illegals need to fined and penalized. There were always plenty of undocumeted workers wanting to work, but they didn't want to work for any less money than the legal workers. So for me it was better to hire legal workers than run the risk of losing a whole crew to the INS during the cotton harvest. The INS would usually check us twice a ginning season so I really don't see how other types of businesses get away with it unless the INS is turning a blind eye toward it.

Author
BubbaT
Date
2008-03-04T01:11:02-06:00
ID
82225
Comment

A good opinion column in The Reflector refers back to this story. The author, Matt Watson, writes (in response to an anti-immigration column, which apparently passed along many of the usual myths without homework to back them up): Austin's constant mention of "taxpaying citizens" seems to imply that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes. This is not true. I would refer Austin and other readers to a feature story headlined "Immigration: Myth vs. Reality" in the Feb. 20 issue of The Jackson Free Press. Among other things, the story highlights Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant's famous 2006 report on the impact of illegal immigration in Mississippi. Even that report, used as a campaign tool by Bryant and other Republicans in the state, estimated that illegal immigrants pay $44.2 million through income and sales taxes. And that figure is probably understating the actual amount illegal immigrants contribute. Austin also implies that illegal immigrants are eligible for the same services for which citizens are eligible. However, as The Jackson Free Press points out in its article, this is not always the case. For instance, only 40 illegal immigrants in Mississippi applied for food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families over the past four years. Contrary to Austin's arguments, illegal immigrants do not receive "free health-care." I don't even know many American citizens who fall into that boat. (Oh, what a great line that last one was. Hey, Matt, send us some opinion pieces, too!)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-03-04T15:41:39-06:00
ID
82226
Comment

(Go, dawgs!)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-03-04T15:42:01-06:00
ID
82227
Comment

Not to side track the thread, but here is a related article about a study citing evidence that immigration reduces crime rates. http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/forums/threads.php?id=16578_0_25_0_C

Author
synapsed
Date
2008-03-20T15:17:05-06:00

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