GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Critics of Mississippi's latest effort to curb illegal immigration say the state is instead creating other problems, like making people afraid to call the police or take their children to the hospital. At a conference in Gulfport, several speakers talked about the impact of a new state law and a recent federal raid on a Laurel manufacturing plant.
Two months ago, federal agents rounded up nearly 600 Howard Industry employees suspected of being illegal immigrants. A civil rights group says other than put Mississippi's Latino community in fear, the country's largest raid didn't solve anything.
Luis Figueroa works with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, a group that defends the civil rights of Latinos.
"As soon as there is a raid, then new workers come in and the system starts all over again," Figueroa said.
At the Unity Conference, people weighed in on the effects of the Mississippi Employment Protection Act. That act made it a felony for anyone in the country illegally to take a job here.
"Over the last couple of years, we've seen this very troubling trend of states trying to step in and legislate immigration," said Anna Avandano of the AFL-CIO. "What you've seen here in Mississippi, really it's one of the worse cases of that, where the state legislature has not just delved into the issue of immigration but also tried to criminalize work."
While some groups don't like to see states passing immigration laws, they say they understand why the states feel the need to act.
"The states have a point,"said Avandano. "They need the federal government to solve this issue and we hope the Congress is going to step up to the plate and do that."
Figueroa said it doesn't make sense for one state to have different immigration laws from its neighbor.
"Different communities shouldn't have different immigration laws. The laws should be the same especially when it comes to immigration because then you have certain states that aren't able to compete against other states because of different labor laws."