Lawmakers Face Immigration Issue

Lawmakers face immigration issue

By Sheil Byrd
The Associated Press, September 28, 2010

Hearings set for this week at the state Capitol on immigration-enforcement proposals could be a preview of how contentious the topic will be next session.

Several lawmakers say they're interested in legislation that mirrors the immigration-enforcement law that took effect in Arizona this year. The statute requires law enforcement officers to check the status of people suspected of being in the country illegally. A federal judge's ruling, however, has put parts of the law on hold.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who scheduled the hearings for Tuesday and Wednesday, said, 'I certainly think the folks who pushed the Arizona bill have a point. If there are illegal immigrants in our state, law enforcement should have the tools available to them to address the situation. There's also some strong arguments made by those who have legitimate concerns.'

Nsombi Lambright, executive director of the state American Civil Liberties Union, said the immigration measure is nothing more than racial profiling.

Lambright, who will speak at the hearings, said she'll point to the Jackson City Council's approval last week of an anti-racial profiling ordinance as evidence there's not much appetite for the proposal.

The city's ordinance prohibits law officers from questioning or arresting residents based solely on immigration status, physical characteristics, sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the ordinance doesn't apply if officers are looking for a suspect that fits a certain description.

The ordinance passed on a 6-1 vote by the majority-black council. Lambright said she'd like to see other cities around the state follow Jackson's lead.

As for the immigration proposal, Lambright said it would only burden the state's law enforcement system. No one has an exact figure for the state's illegal immigrant population, but few would argue it has grown over the years.

'We know if we have problems with law enforcement right now in terms of racial profiling, and not having racial sensitivity training, an immigration law like this would add extra problems to a system already flawed,' Lambright said.