Earlier today, a Reuters reporter emailed me asking for my comments to the Mississippi anti-immigration bill (HB-488) that just passed the state lower house late last night, and is now on its way to the state senate. Here is the full text of my reply:
I haven’t had a chance to see the final text of the bill as it passed in the state lower house. But in general, the kind of bill that essentially transforms every state employee into an immigration official is extremely counter-productive. I’ll get to the moral issues last, but first let’s focus on the bad policy implications:
1) Such a law creates a massive layer of bureaucracy. If every time I want to renew my license, apply for transcripts from my public university or community college, or apply for a marriage license I have to first demonstrate my citizenship or residency, it will require an additional hurdle that will, in aggregate, slow down the productivity of state bureaucrats.
2) Because the law must be applied equally (in order to comply with federal equal protection statutes), local officials will have to request citizenship or residency papers from all citizens. To do so otherwise opens the state up to lawsuits based on discrimination.
3) Because of the above, most citizens will suddenly find themselves in violation of the law if they do not permanently carry their birth certificates around with them. As most non-citizen residents can tell you, a driver’s license, student or military ID, or Social Security card is not accepted as proof of citizenship or residency status. The only such documents are a passport (which most American citizens do not possess) or a birth certificate. Thus, native-born Mississippi residents will find themselves barred from most public services until they can produce a birth certificate (a document many citizens do not have in their immediate possession).
4) Both the bureaucratic red tape and subsequent inconvenient (as well as potential for harassment) will discourage not only foreign investment (as it has in Alabama, where many foreign investment projects have been suspended or cancelled) but will also discourage US citizens and legal residents from other states from moving to or doing business in the state. This will make it even more difficult for Mississippi businesses to recruit top candidates from other states, as well as in efforts to recruit from the global talent pool. The local or “native” Mississippi pool of engineers, doctors, nurses, and other professionals is not enough to meet demand, and certainly not enough to generate the necessary economic growth to help lift the state out of poverty.
5) The policy will particularly affect police forces, which are already stretched too thin. In Alabama, the requirement that police officers spend precious time checking on the citizenship or residency status of simple traffic stops has led to a dramatic increase in crime, as police officers are unavailable to respond to serious crimes in Alabama’s cities. Do Mississippi lawmakers want to help increase crime statistics in Mississippi? I hope not.
6) The policy may have the intended effect of “self-deporting” many local undocumented workers. But this will also have negative consequences for the state. Undocumented workers make up less than 0.3 percent of state residents, but contribute an estimated 11 percent of total state tax revenue. Why? Because most undocumented workers are deducted their income taxes from payroll deductions but, unlike citizens and legal residents, cannot file income tax returns. More than half of US citizens end up paying nothing in income taxes, because they are simply too poor (that figure is much higher in Mississippi). Thus, contrary to popular belief, undocumented workers actually subsidize state programs to a greater proportion than local residents. In addition, undocumented workers pay sales taxes and property taxes, just like all other residents. Also contrary to popular beliefs, with the exception of public schools, undocumented immigrants receive no state or federal welfare benefits, since these can only go to legal residents and citizens. Thus, the “self-deportation” of undocumented workers could cost the state as much as $52 million in tax revenue. Not to mention the adverse effect such a loss of migrant labor would have on a number of business, particularly those in the agricultural and constructor sector.
Finally, the law would set Mississippi back nearly a century in civil rights legislation. Because the law clearly targets Hispanics, the law gives local citizens a green light to harass anyone who looks “Mexican” or “foreign” (other ethnic minorities). That kind of atmosphere will not only drive away undocumented migrants, but also legal residents and even citizens who are perceived as “foreigners.” It will contribute to a decline in the state’s competitiveness to attract the best and brightest workers (and students, at premier institutions like the University of Mississippi, where I work) to the state.
In short, the law will be an economic disaster for the state.
So, why is this law—and others like it—being pursued now? Because it’s an election year. And the most conservative base in the GOP has decided to use immigration (the newest form of race-baiting) and contraception (the newest form of attacks on women’s rights) as a way to generate enthusiasm for the 2012 presidential election. They will probably not succeed, and their effort may likely give the Democratic party its widest margin of victory since Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater in 1964. But even if they succeed, passing such laws will leave a wake of economic devastation across the South that would make General Sherman proud.
I invite you to please sign this petition, which I hope to mail to the state’s legislators before it’s too late. Thank you!
Despite last night’s high profile execution of Troy Davis, I wouldn’t hold your breath for a hard-hitting question about the death penalty in tonight’s GOP debate; that issue, as we all know, was settled earlier this month when Rick Perry expressed his certainty that no innocent person has ever been put to death and the audience cheered wildly about all of the killing he’s overseen.
Isn’t this Ron Paul’s moment to really stand out, though? Doesn’t he believe that the government ought not to be in the business of killing people, just as it ought not to be in the business of taxing them or forcing them to carry health insurance?
I wouldn’t rush to put all of your eggs in that basket. As far as I can tell, Paul has only stated his opposition to the federal death penalty. And I doubt he’ll express even this weak position, given that right-wing pundits have been crowing about their love of executions and that GOP debate crowds have seemed especially blood-thirsty of late.
I’ve taken a few swipes at the so-called pro-life crowd over the past couple of weeks, mostly as a result of statements by the candidates and the behavior of audience members at the two most recent GOP debates. My argument has been, I think, fairly straightforward: If you say that you hold human life to be sacred, for whatever reason, then you can’t also cheer about people’s deaths — even if they’re people you don’t like or with whom you don’t identify, like criminals or the uninsured.
Now, from Mississippi, we have a stark contrast:
The family of an African-American man who died after allegedly being beaten by a group of white teens and run over by a truck is asking state and federal officials not to seek the death penalty in the case.
Relatives of James Craig Anderson, who died shortly after receiving his injuries on June 26, sent a letter with their request to the prosecutor in the case, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith.
“We ask that you not seek the death penalty for anyone involved in James’ murder,” the letter states; the letter is signed by Barbara Anderson Young, James Craig Anderson’s sister who is in charge of, and speaks for, his estate.
The letter states that the family is opposed to the death penalty partly for religious convictions.
“Our opposition to the death penalty is deeply rooted in our religious faith, a faith that was central in James’ life as well,” the letter states. But the family goes on to explain that there is another reason for their opposition, one that is tied to Mississippi’s racial past.
“We also oppose the death penalty because it historically has been used in Mississippi and the South primarily against people of color for killing whites,” the letter states. “Executing James’ killers will not help to balance the scales. But sparing them may help to spark a dialogue that one day will lead to the elimination of capital punishment.”
This family is pro-life.
They argue that the death penalty violates the core tenets of their religion and they argue that it is bound up with societal injustices that have deep roots in our history. Public and non-public reasons are being employed here, and you can take your pick as to which you find to be compelling. But even if you aren’t convinced by either one of the arguments they make, you have to agree that this is what a pro-life position looks like.
Now … what do you suppose the prosecutor will do?