by Sue Weishar Ph.D.
At the beginning of this year’s state legislative sessions in Mississippi and Louisiana the odds that immigration enforcement bills would be passed in both statehouses looked likely, especially in Mississippi. In both states Republicans had taken control of each chamber of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana had been re-elected by a wide margin, and the newly elected Republican governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, had made immigration enforcement a major component of his election strategy.
In Louisiana it seemed as though anti-immigrant forces had momentum to aid their cause. In the prior legislative session two e-verify bills were passed by the Louisiana Legislature with support from organized labor and the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives. At the end of the 2011 legislative session State Representative Kirk Talbot (R-River Ridge), the author of one of the e-verify bills, struck an ominous tone when he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “We are not finished with immigration reform. There will be a slew of them next year.” Louisiana’s governor had no trouble signing the e-verify bills into law. Nevertheless, despite Bobby Jindal’s clear interest in national office and his courtship of conservative Republican supporters in his many out-of-state trips, he has not been known to play the immigration card, perhaps because he is himself the son of immigrants. However, the political points that legislators scored with their constituents in Alabama with its harsh anti-immigrant law, HB 56, and the fact that Louisiana legislators often look to Alabama and Mississippi as barometers of where they should be on issues also suggested that anti-immigrant legislation could be on its way in Louisiana.
By April 3, 2012, the last day that a legislator could introduce a bill for consideration in the 2012 Louisiana regular session, not one immigration enforcement bill had been filed in either the Louisiana House or Senate.
Rob Tasman is the Associate Director for the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops. As a lobbyist for the Louisiana Catholic Church, Rob frequently interacts with Louisiana legislators on a variety of topics and is a regular visitor to the state capitol when the legislature is in session. We asked Rob his thoughts on why Louisiana was able to avoid becoming embroiled in immigration enforcement legislation in the 2012 legislative session.
In the current legislative session the remaking of Louisiana public education became the major focus of the Governor and the legislature. 1 According to Rob, “It is possible given the historical, and far-reaching education reform measures that Gov. Jindal proposed this session, that legislators held back on controversial bills so that they might deal with this core issue.” Term limits resulted in 40 new state legislators, which Rob suggested may have led those individuals to want to learn the system “before they themselves pursued legislation of a controversial nature.” Finally, in his visits around the state with state legislators prior to the legislative session, it was apparent to Rob that “there were a good number of legislators familiar with the damaging effects of Alabama’s HB 56…I would hope that since AL and MS remain to be a barometer for our Legislature, that our Legislators reflected on the repressive nature of Alabama’s legislation and saw no need to replicate it within Louisiana.” In regards to anti-immigrant bills being considered next year in Louisiana, Rob indicated that much will depend on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law, SB 1070, which is expected to be decided this spring.
As an experienced advocate in Baton Rouge, Rob has come to know Louisiana’s leaders well. His overall assessment of Louisiana legislators’ decision not to pursue anti-immigrant legislation in 2012 provides hope:
“We are a welcoming and diverse people who recognize the gift and sacredness of family and community. I am encouraged, that in the midst of a divisive and destructive national scene where dialogue has broken down and it has become all too easy to paint immigrants as something other than human, Louisiana has chosen that such a sentiment will not be echoed in her Legislature and thus by her people. This, in-and-of-itself, is a reality filled with grace.
In a remarkable, dare we say grace-filled, development, an immigration enforcement bill that was passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives on March 15th with strong support from Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi Tea Party members died in a state Senate Judiciary Committee on April 3, the last day that action could be taken on any general bills that had already passed the opposite chamber.
In addition to firm opposition to the bill from Mississippi’s Catholic bishops and other faith leaders, well-respected voices never heard before on immigration issues were adamant in their opposition to HB 488, including leaders from law enforcement, agriculture, economic development, and city government. In the summer edition of JustSouth Quarterly we will report in more detail how Mississippians came to this historic juncture in rejecting state level immigration enforcement legislation
1. Governor Jindal’s centerpiece proposals expand the use of private vouchers, gut teacher tenure, limit school board authority in hiring and firing decisions, and make it easier for charter schools to be approved. On April 5th these historic changes received final passage in the House. See http://www.nola.com/newsflash/index.ssf/story/final-passage-for-historic-jindal-education-reform/83852fea976348dd811494da06d738cd
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