Photo: Gov. Haley Barbour
As Republican Gov. Haley Barbour serves his last term, and considers a run for president, he is preparing the state of Mississippi to take on the issue of immigration.
Barbour said in a December interview that he believes it to be reasonable to allow local law enforcement to ask the immigration status of anyone they stop for traffic violations or other suspected offenses. He was quick to acknowledge the much-appreciated help of the immigrants that came to help restore the areas badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we had a tremendous number of people come in, and I have no doubt some of them weren’t here legally,” said Barbour. “I don’t know where we’d have been without them.”
As Barbour seems almost at odds with himself, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who is looking to take over when Barbour’s term ends, has been one of the state and country’s most strident advocates of Mississippi’s Arizona-like immigration bill currently making its way through the capitol. The bill would allow police to, during a traffic stop or other inquiry, check the immigration status of anyone they suspected was in the country illegally. Opponents of the bill say it would force officers to racially profile. Bill writers say this would not occur and state the bill specifically denounces and prohibits such discrimination.
Last week, a rally led by MIRA (Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance) had 80 people come together to speak out against the proposal. Joining the group was the NAACP’s Mississippi president Derrick Johnson who stated that “any legislation that discriminates against Latinos, discriminates against African-Americans.” Johnson added that many Latinos coming to the U.S. are only in search of work to help their struggling families.
The day after the rally, Tea Party activists and supporters of the Arizona-style legislation were in attendance at a Senate committee meeting to show their support of the bill. A surgeon from Jackson stated that he believes undocumented immigration poses security risks and steals jobs from American citizens. He also stated his disapproval of social benefits for the unauthorized.
If Barbour decides to run for president in 2012, it is certain he’ll face the immigration debate often.
For now, he says he’ll neither veto nor approve any bill until he has read it very carefully, because unlike Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, Mississippi is not a border state so it does not have the same issues to consider. An immigration bill mirroring Arizona’s may not be appropriate for his state he said.