Undocumented Workers, Felons and Fines | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Undocumented Workers, Felons and Fines


Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin warned that legislators had better be ready to back up Senate Bill 2988 with more funding if they intend for local law enforcement and jails to cover the impending crowd of convicts.

The bill, called the Mississippi Employee Protection Act, forces all employers in the state to check employees' resident status with the E-verification System, available online at the Department of Homeland Security's Web site. However, it also makes any undocumented worker and anyone employing an undocumented worker a felon, and carries a punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

McMillin warned that the bill could have a serious impact on county jails if the bill's language dictated he arrest every undocumented worker reported in the county.

"I think ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) should find a place to put them, and be prepared to transport them to a facility, because we don't have the capacity at Hinds County to deal with it," McMillin said.

The House, which had proven largely indifferent to immigration issues in the past, passed SB 2988 with a 111-to-8 vote. The bill was House Democrats' one attempt at silencing critics fired up by the immigration issue.

Republicans are looking for the next issue to lure Mississippi voters into their corner, and the visage of a toiling immigrant worker is proving to be a watershed. Mississippi talk radio is beating the anti-immigration drum, with most Republican candidates falling over themselves to prove how nativist they are. The tantrum is carrying over into the living rooms of Democratic politicians, however, who are feeling the pressure to approve some kind of immigrant-restrictive bill, just to show they are willing.

House Speaker Billy McCoy's feeling on the issue was obvious in his willingness to bring the bill forward for a floor vote.

"This is likely to be one of the most important bills the House will address this session," McCoy told members. "Representatives have been dodging this issue for a long time, and are ready to vote."

Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, argued that the bill was aimed at regulating both employee and employer, though representatives like Willie Perkins, of Greenwood, said that the bill's language was aimed strongly at immigrant workers. Perkins pointed out that the bill forces court personnel to consider violators of this particular law a flight risk.

"We know who this bill targets," Perkins said. "Are you trying to tell me that some employer who is established is a flight risk?"

Perkins was one of the eight representatives who opposed the bill in the final vote.

"What keeps (employers) from discriminating against someone of a certain ethnic background?" Perkins asked. "Some employers might say, 'Rather than fooling with (the possibility of) hiring an illegal, I'll just not hire an immigrant at all."

"[H]ow ever the employer chooses to respond to (the new law) is up to that employer," Jones answered. "We have discrimination laws in this country that deal with the type of behavior you're describing."

Rep. Tommy Woods, R-Byhalia, questioned how an employer out in the field would check his employees' records online if he had no access to the Internet.

"I would suggest they attend a public library and check out their employees," Jones answered.

"I'm sure they'll have time to do that," Woods said, laughing derisively.

Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance spokesman Erik Fleming agreed that legislators were pressured into supporting the bill.

"They knew the Senate was sending them all these bills and the House felt it had to vote on something," Fleming said. "They felt they were catching a whole lot of flack for not dealing with the issue."

Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, said on his blog that he feared the bill would fill state jails with illegal immigrants at considerable cost to the state. Mayo said it would be cheaper to buy the immigrants "a first-class plane ticket back to their country."

McMillin agreed with Mayo on that point, and warned legislators should indeed be ready to cough up the cash for the added expenses. "I would hope that when (legislators) pass this bill they would be ready to provide a place to house (immigrant detainees). I don't know what they expect us to do. Should we house them at the Coliseum or the Trade Mart building?"

Gov. Haley Barbour has said immigration is an issue that should be handled on the national level, though Barbour's press secretary, Pete Smith, said the governor could be predisposed to welcome the bill.

"It's entirely likely that the governor will sign the bill, but he needs to take the time to thoroughly review the bill before doing that," Smith told the Jackson Free Press.

Previous Comments


Anyone interested in how eVerify really works should Google the September 2007 Westat Report. It is not an end-all be-all solution. Many documented workers will be kicked out as ineligible since INS and SSA will not combine their databases.


I see the governor signed this piece of crap bill! I sure hope he realizes what he's done to all his friends companies that will now be in violation of this bill. Like every architect, engineer, and construction company can check every employee hired on every job without any slip ups. How about the nannies of the rich, the restaurant workers, and the farm hands? Just like the border, immigrants are going to find ways around the system; yet, this will be the employers fault when they do. Brilliant! I think that those in charge will use this bill against those they want to, not equally among all. If they don't like the person hired for a contract they will look harder at them over their "favored" contractor. Like Rosemary and Charles hasn't hired an illegal immigrant before in one of their companies? Come on! It is sad to see good politicians, both Dems and Republicans, cower to the fear mongering of a few elitists! Welcome to the modern version of Jim Crow! Hopefully, this will be taken to court and struck down.


It is sad to see good politicians, both Dems and Republicans, cower to the fear mongering of a few elitists! Welcome to the modern version of Jim Crow! AMEN! to that, pikersam. It's "Profiles in Cowardice" time at the State Capitol. It's disgusting to note that not a single Senator voted against this bill, and that good populists and progressives in the House followed suit. Once again, the public has to step up and take the lead on this issue, since our "leaders" are retreating the moral high ground.


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