While most American will be preparing for upcoming Independence Day celebrations, effective July 1, immigrants in Mississippi will be bracing for a life of uncertainties. Will they be able to work or will they go to jail? Will their current legal visas hold up against what is termed a “flawed” electronic database indicate or not? And the uncertainties continue.
Such fear and uncertainties stem from Senate Bill 2988: the “Mississippi Employment Protect-ion Act,” signed into law by Gov. Haley Barbour on March 17, 2008 and goes into effect July 1.
The major component of the bill requires employers to use an electronic system to verify immigration status, called E-Verify – recently developed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Advocate Erik Fleming said the government accounting office has already publicly pointed out that the E-Verify system needs fixing, and Mississippi has made it a law that employers must use the “flawed” system to verify a person’s eligibility to work in the state.
Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance (MIRA) recently met with national lawyers and local supporters to discuss the approaching enactment of the bill. The advocacy group wants the bill repealed.
“The first thing the law is going to do [July 1] is criminalize work,” said Rep. Jim Evans, who serves as MIRA’s board president. “It will put a five-year penalty on applying for a job. That’s the first time it has ever happened in America.” He said secondly, “it creates another atmosphere where an individual does not have to be treated justly under the law. It will possibly give some of the small town sheriffs and police officers who might have vendettas again immigrants ‘a free for all.’”
“We’re interested and concerned about the basic human rights of immigrants,” said Bill Chandler, MIRA’s executive director, who facilitated the meeting. Chandler had dubbed the law, “Mississippi Ethnic Cleansing Act.”
Attorney L. Patricia Ice, MIRA’s director of legal project asked everyone present to become very observance of any problems that may occur in the immigrant communities after July 1. She wants them to make sure to report anything they see.
Ice was asked by the media whether MIRA would file any type of litigation against the state. She indicated they do not know at this point, but that was one of the reasons they invited the national lawyers to weigh the options. “The best thing that could happen now is for the bill to be repealed. We want it repealed.”
The Mississippi House is scheduled to reconvene Thursday at 2 p.m.