JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi politicians are gearing up to push an immigration-enforcement law similar to Arizona's, allowing police officers to check the status of people they think might be in the country illegally.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and state Rep. Becky Currie, who are both Republicans, discussed the effort Monday night during a meeting sponsored by the tea party and the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement.
"We've got to know if we have illegal aliens that are here violating our laws," Bryant told an audience of about 150 people at the Madison County Cultural Center. "Do you want your ID stolen?"
Currie, of Brookhaven, told the crowd: "I don't know about any of you, but I am so sick and tired of hearing Americans won't do the jobs that illegals are doing. If I hear it one more time, I'm going to puke."
Legislators would get their first chance to vote on a bill during the three-month session that starts in January. Immigrant-rights advocates say Arizona's law could lead to racial profiling of Hispanics.
"One of the problems with Phil Bryant and the other people is their mentality is still in Mississippi practices of 50 years ago and before, when they were screaming about states' rights and opposing desegregation and voting rights for African-Americans," Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said in an interview Tuesday.
Last week at the Neshoba County Fair, Republican Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters he would sign a bill like Arizona's.
"It's not as applicable to us because we don't have a border," Barbour said. "But there's nothing in that law that, to me, that offends constitutional standards, whether it's the United States or the state of Mississippi."
Barbour, who's term-limited and can't run for governor again in 2011, is a potential 2012 presidential candidate. He said the federal government is failing in its responsibility to enforce immigration laws.
The U.S. Justice Department sued to block some of Arizona's law from taking effect in late July.
Bryant, who's running for governor in 2011, said he's not daunted by the possibility a federal lawsuit against Mississippi.
"And if we're going to get sued by an oppressive federal government, let them come to Mississippi and do it," Bryant said at the Madison meeting. "I'll be glad to take it to our courts and I'll be glad to pay my own way to Washington, D.C., and stand there on the Supreme Court's steps and fight for freedom's cause."
Currie said she recently saw a crew mowing the grass and picking up litter on the side of Interstate 55 near Brookhaven. She pulled over to talk to them.
"They looked like they were from out of town," Currie said, prompting laughter from some at the immigration-enforcement rally. "I asked them who is their supervisor. Not one of them, not one of them could speak a word of English."
Mississippi enacted a law two years ago requiring all employers to use the federal E-Verify website to check new workers' immigration status. The law took effect July 1, 2008, for state agencies and for private businesses with state contracts, and Jan. 1, 2009, for other businesses.
Currie said she called the Mississippi Department of Transportation and requested documents showing whether the contractor who hired the road crew had used E-Verify to check on the workers. She said she received a letter in June saying the contractor had run the background checks in October 2008.
"E-Verify's not working," she said.