2012-04-08 16:45:08

Miss. Business Sector Key to Defeat of Anti-Immigrant Bill

The state of Mississippi has a dark history when it comes to discrimination and racial segregation, like many other southern states. Yet, unlike its neighbors, an anti-immigrant state law was blocked there. And this is good news.

The secret to this victory for common sense lies in the opposition to the law from the business and law enforcement sectors.

In March, Mississippi's House of Representatives passed an immigration measure similar to those passed in Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee, but this one died in the Senate Judicial Committee. The panel believed that it interfered with law enforcement because the measure required officers to report the undocumented, under penalty of a departmental fine if they failed to do so.

This is also the result of the lobbying against the measure by the business, farm, and poultry sectors and the Mississippi Economic Council, among others. They did not want to risk economic losses due to a lack of workers in the field, or damage their reputation by arresting foreign executives of local factories, all of which occurred in neighboring states following similar laws.

At the same time, the case pending before the Supreme Court on the validity of Arizona's SB1070-going before the court on April 25-was sufficient to call for a pause in the anti-immigrant fervor in state legislatures. Alabama had the option to err on the side of caution, but embarked on HB 56 and is now the state having the hardest time implementing it, while costing its taxpayers dearly.

We have always said that the business sector plays a key role in the immigration debate. In Mississippi, it halted a punitive law that went against its interests. Wouldn't it be nice, for example, if the business community showed that same commitment at the federal level to pass the DREAM Act, which would help ensure a trained workforce? Or to support comprehensive immigration reform, which would provide a dignified solution for the necessary flow of labor.

The business sector, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is sympathetic to the idea of immigration reform, but has never exerted real pressure on federal lawmakers, as it has on tax laws. They need to provide more than just words.

It is virtually certain that in the next legislative session, a measure similar to the one defeated this week will reappear in Mississippi. We hope that in the future, the current good sense will prevail in the Republican controlled state Senate and that what has happened in this state will drive the business sector to play a more active role in favor of reasonable, humane immigration laws.

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