New MS Law On Illegal Immigration Takes Effect - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

New MS Law On Illegal Immigration Takes Effect

HARRISON COUNTY (WLOX) -- A new state law designed to curb illegal immigration took effect on Tuesday. The first phase of the Mississippi Employment Protection Act requires all state agencies, companies with state contracts and companies with 250 or more employees to verify that new hires are able to work in the United States legally.

The Gulf Coast Latin American Association says there are about 150,000 Latinos living in Mississippi. The Association estimates that as many as 25 percent are illegal immigrants. As of July 1st, if one of them accepts a job, he or she takes a chance of facing felony charges.

Andy Guerra is the host of "La Voz Latina," a bilingual weekly radio program. He's also executive director of the Gulf Coast Latin American Association. These days much of Guerra's air time is devoted to telling listeners about the new state immigration employment law.

"To properly inform the community in regards to what this bill is and what this law passed is actually saying, rather than let them hear it by word of mouth," said Guerra.

State Representative Michael Janus is one of the lawmakers who voted for Senate Bill 2988. He says the federal government hasn't done enough to handle the illegal immigration problem, so Mississippi lawmakers decided to take a hard stance.

"If you are an illegal alien and you accept a job, that is a felony offense with one to five years in jail or a fine, or both. So certainly there's some enforcement or some teeth in the law."

Losing their business license for up to one year and cancellation/ineligibility for state contracts for up to three years are penalties employers could face for not using the federal E-verification system, run by the Department of Homeland Security. 

Lawmakers are already thinking of proposing changes to the law during the special session. 

Janus said, "Who is responsible for policing the subcontractor? Certainly an employer that has a contract with the state will, and is supposed to comply with the law. But many employers have subcontractors that work for them. So where is the burden to make the sure the sub-contractors comply with the law as well?

As legislators figure out what needs to be tweaked, Andy Guerra says much of his radio audience is listening and worrying.

"I believe it's drawing some stresses," said Guerra. "Some may be unwarranted. Those who are in a unique position are definitely very concerned."

Nearly all Mississippi businesses will have to use e-verification by 2011. A couple of non-profit groups that work with immigrants told WLOX News that some families have been leaving the area because they can't find jobs or are afraid of the new penalties.

Meanwhile, Representative Janus says the lawmakers will only discuss changes to the new immigration law during the special session if the Medicaid debate is resolved. The special session resumes Wednesday.

By Danielle Thomas

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