Bill banning sanctuaries passes House

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Gabriel Austin, Mississippi Today

Legislators at work in the Mississippi House chamber.

The House on Tuesday approved the only remaining bill addressing illegal immigration — making it illegal for any state or local government entity to adopt policies providing sanctuary for immigrants from federal law. 

Senate Bill 2710 prevents local governments and public institutions, such as colleges and universities from adopting policies that “prohibits any person from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies or officials to verify or report the immigration status of any person.”

The bill makes invalid any policy adopted in the future by state or local entities.

The measure is somewhat scaled down from its original version, which required law enforcement officers to inform federal immigration officials if a suspect is not legally present in the country.

During debate in the Senate, backers of the legislation said no government entity in the state has adopted policies to disregard federal immigration law, thereby becoming sanctuaries from immigration.

“We are a nation of immigrants and I personally support immigration. I have many friends who are immigrants who’ve gone through the process legally,” said Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton.

This is the House’s second vote in five years on an immigration reform measure. In 2012, the House passed another Gipson-sponsored bill after more than two hours of debate that would have required police officers to ascertain the immigration status of suspects they believed might be in the country without proper documentation.

A coalition of immigrant-rights groups, law enforcement associations and business groups defeated that legislation when it reached the Senate.

Mississippi House

Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman

Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman, responded to questions about the necessity for the law by saying that the legislation merely clarifies that state law would require people to work with federal immigration authorities. Refusing to cooperate with immigration officials would be tantamount to granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, he said.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville — who has offered joke bills over the years to change the name of the Gulf of America to the Gulf of America and, this year, for Mississippi to donate $1 million to the border wall President Donald Trump wants to build — asked Hood why members were voting on the bill.

“Because it had the votes to pass out” of committee, Hood said.

“That’s a crappy reason,” Holland said, adding that he thinks the bill is “silly.”

The debate came on the heels of a raid of Asian restaurants in Rankin County on Feb. 22 and the arrest of 22-year-old student Daniela Vargas following an immigrants’ rights press conference at the Capitol. She is accused of overstaying her visa.

In all, lawmakers introduced five bills that would have affected immigrants living in Mississippi.

During the morning’s debate, Rep. Kevin Horan, D-Grenada, asked why the House should approve the bill when the Senate killed similar legislation five years ago.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said the bill is among his legislative priorities this year.