By Sue Weishar, Ph.D.
In a remarkable development, a harsh immigration enforcement bill1 that passed the Mississippi House of Representatives on March 15 with strong support from Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi Tea Party members died in a Senate Judiciary Committee on April 3, 2012, the last day that action could be taken on any general bills passed by the opposite chamber.2
Early in the legislative session, Mississippi’s bishops had denounced3 anti-immigrant legislation, which they argued would threaten the dignity of the human person and negatively impact the progress Mississippi has made in addressing racial injustice. A sign-on letter from evangelical leaders, whose voices had not been heard in prior debates on anti-immigrant legislation, also gained wide support. But in a move that stunned many, Mississippi law enforcement and municipal leaders, including the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association and Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, came out strongly against HB 488 in a letter to lawmakers on March 27, calling it an “unfunded state mandate” that could lead to new taxes. Soon after, leaders of agriculture groups, including the influential Mississippi Farm Bureau, sent a letter to lawmakers warning that the bill could hurt Mississippi’s economy.4 The next day, the Mississippi Economic Council, effectively a state-wide Chamber of Commerce, opposed the bill.
To better understand how Mississippi arrived at this potentially historic juncture in stopping the spread of state-level anti-immigrant legislation, I interviewed individuals who helped to shape the coalition of new voices, as well as faith and civil rights leaders working for immigration justice in Mississippi.5