Other Opinions

Why Mississippi can’t afford to pass senator’s anti-sanctuary cities bill

Katherine Klein, ACLU of Mississippi
Katherine Klein, ACLU of Mississippi

State Senate Bill 2710, co-sponsored by Sen. Sean Tindell of Gulfport, would prohibit the adoption of sanctuary city policies by any city, municipality, state agency, college campus or other entity. The problem? Mississippi has no sanctuary cities.

Tindell’s bill has been interpreted as taking aim at Jackson’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which prohibits racial profiling practices. Under the ordinance, police officers are unable to inquire about an individual’s immigration status unless it directly relates to a crime that has been committed.

But Tindell’s bill is much more dangerous even than threatening to void the state’s only non-discrimination ordinance.

The exact wording of the bill prohibits any entity from “implement(ing) a policy” that “grants to any person the right to lawful presence or status within the state.”

This vague wording opens up a world of trouble. What if immigration enforcement isn’t held as a priority by a police department? Jackson Police Chief Lee Vance has said the role of his department “is to provide police service to those who request it and identifying a person’s immigration status is not our primary responsibility.” Does this statement constitute a policy?

Passing a sanctuary cities bill like the one going through the Legislature brings up two immediate issues.

The first is that compelling police officers to enforce federal immigration laws will almost certainly lead to racial profiling and other civil rights violations. How exactly does an officer, in the normal course of performing his duties, determine an individual’s immigration status? Will officers begin asking everyone they pull over for traffic infractions for their immigration papers? Unlikely.

Much more probable is that police departments will begin to target non-white-looking individuals. Unlike federal immigration enforcement officers, whose job it is to gather information about legal status, local law enforcement has no way to know whether someone they encounter on the streets of any Mississippi town does or does not have “a lawful presence or status.” How many people will be questioned, detained, or denied assistance, simply because of the color of their skin?

Second, SB 2710 puts an undue strain on police departments that may fear retaliation for not placing immigration enforcement as a priority issue. Diverting resources toward searching for undocumented immigrants means less funds for what should ostensibly be the main directive of a police department — public safety.

Passing harsh immigration practices also makes local law enforcement’s job more difficult and communities less safe. Immigrants who fear deportation are less likely to contact and cooperate with a police or sheriff’s office if they fear doing so will lead to lead to someone in their family facing deportation.

ICE and other federal immigration enforcement programs rarely reimburse states and municipalities for the cost of complying with their agencies. Add to this the cost of holding individuals while waiting to find out their immigration status, and the cost of transportation to detention centers, and you have the potential for serious budget concerns.

Is extra funding for these programs going to come from the Legislature? You take a look at this year’s proposed budget cuts and get back to me.

Finally, harsh anti-immigrant policies also have major economic consequences on the state level, as our neighbor to the east can attest.

In 2011, Alabama passed one of the harshest anti-immigration bills in the country, HB 56. According to the Economic Policy Institute, Alabama’s job growth slowed to 1/7th of the national average after the implementation of this bill. The law succeeded in that many immigrant workers left the state. However, this caused Alabama’s economy to plummet to the worst in the South.

Immigrants add substantial value to the economy.

Putting in place needless and costly anti-immigration legislation will do nothing but harm Mississippi’s economy and put unnecessary financial strain on our police departments.

Katherine Klein is the Equality for All Advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi.