Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mississippi Senate passes Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill

"When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God." - Leviticus 19:33-34

   Yesterday the Mississippi Senate passed an anti-immigrant bill similar to Arizona SB 1070. The bill would authorize local law enforcement officers to check a person's immigration status if "reasonable suspicion" exists that the person may be in the country illegally during any "lawful stop, detention or arrest," according to the Jackson Clarion Ledger.

   It's not clear yet whether the Mississippi House, which defeated a similar bill last year, will pass the legislation.

   The passage of this bill breaks my heart and angers me at the same time. Hebrew and Christian scriptures instruct us over and over again to love immigrants as ourselves, and to treat them as we would our fellow citizens. Both Moses and Jesus lived for a time as refugees in a strange land. Yet whenever anti-immigrant measures are pushed forward, some of their loudest proponents are people who say their Christian faith is more important to them than anything.

   This bill also disturbs me because it's just one more example of a distraction from the real solution to our country's immigration crisis: comprehensive immigration reform that allows hard-working people who have already built lives in the United States to earn a path to becoming citizens.
   Law enforcement should be worried about this bill. Trust between immigrant communities and the police is already very low. If Mississippi follows Arizona's path, we can be certain that many immigrants will be afraid to report crimes that happen to them, which only makes those crimes more likely to happen.

   The Mississippi bill specifically instructs law enforcement that race or national origin can be used as suspicion that someone is undocumented. That may be better than not mentioning racial profiling at all, but how do we imagine officers are going to decide who seems suspicious and who does not? Racial profiling would likely still happen, and then police and sheriff's departments will be facing discrimination lawsuits.

   If you think this sounds like an exaggeration, take a look at this lawsuit filed in Nashville when the city almost had a U.S. citizen deported. He was suspected of being undocumented because he spoke poor English. And by the way, the Mississippi bill passed yesterday says officers can use poor English as grounds for checking someone's immigration status.

   When will people of faith began to take seriously the commandment to love our immigrant neighbors as ourselves? When will we speak up with our brothers and sisters who daily face the fear that they will be torn from their loved ones and deported just because of a traffic violation? When will we turn to the real work of developing immigration reform, instead of playing to people's worst fears and prejudices?

   How long, O Lord, how long?


  1. One wonders if there is a section of the bill that mandates that law enforcement, upon seeing folks who look like they may be illegal entering a given workplace, say a meat packing plant or a construction site, must go detain the owner/manager of the site until he can prove that his employees are legal. Of course that would involve harassing white people in Mississippi, which doesn't seem to be the point of the bill, but...

  2. The point seems to be intimidation. And when we think about workplace situations, what's really scary is that employers could use this law to intimidate workers from complaining about not getting paid, or being forced to do something dangerous.