This week, the Mississippi State Senate passed an Arizona-style immigration bill that would give law enforcement officers the authority to question the immigration status of anyone arrested for a traffic violation like speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign.
The Republican sponsored bill, similar to the Arizona SB1070 law that currently gives police officers the power to question anyone’s immigration status, passed 34-15 enraging hundreds of African-American and Latino residents who label it as racist.
“I think the bill is absolutely racist”, said state Senator John Horn who voted against the measure. “For Mississippi to go to the forefront in something like this turns the clock and sets us back towards the kind of progress we are trying to make”.
The bill, known as SB2179, will require law enforcement officers to ask a person for proof of citizenship or legal residency if “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country illegally arises.
“A reasonable suspicion is not based on race, color or national origin”, said Joey Fillingane, a Republican state Senator and the bill’s main sponsor. “But one example would be if you can’t speak a word of English”.
WATCH ONE MISSISSIPPI SENATOR DEFEND THIS BILL HERE
Thus far, the proposal has received the support of Mississippi’s Governor Haley Barbour and his Deputy Phil Bryant. But Barbour, who is considering running for the presidency in 2012, seems to be between a rock and a hard place.
The Republican governor, who has recently said that it is “reasonable for a law enforcement officer to ask for proof of citizenship,” has also shown support for immigrants. In an interview published last September in the conservative publication “Human Events,” Barbour recognized the role Spanish-speaking immigrants played rebuilding after Katrina.
“I don’t know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn’t been for the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild, and there’s no doubt in my mind that some of them weren’t here legally”, Barbour said. “If they hadn’t come and stayed for a few months or a couple of years, we would be way, way, way behind where we are now”.
In a state where Latinos have no representation in the state legislature, African-Americans — who represent 40 percent of the state population — have extended their hands to Hispanics assuring that they’ll bring the fight to the floor of the legislature on their behalf.
“Those of us who have been in the struggle to see how things where done, have to be skeptical of anything targeting African-Americans and Latinos”, said state Senator David Jordan who also voted against the measure.
The fate of the bill is now in the state’s House of Representatives where it will now be debated with a vote to follow. If it passes, Barbour’s dilemma is clear: will he veto it in support of those he says lent a very needed hand to a Hurricane ravaged Mississippi or will he give in to his conservative base as he contemplates a run for the White House and sign the bill into law.