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Mississippi lawmakers pass controversial immigration bill

By Joe Sutton, CNN
March 16, 2012 -- Updated 0934 GMT (1734 HKT)
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he believes too little has been done on immigration policies and a crackdown is urgently needed.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he believes too little has been done on immigration policies and a crackdown is urgently needed.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The state's House of Representatives passed the bill Thursday
  • It now goes to the Senate for approval
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center opposes the measure
  • It follows a wave of similar measures across the South

(CNN) -- Another controversial immigration bill is on the horizon in the South, a regional battleground that has seen a number of states pass reforms on illegal immigration.

Mississippi's Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted 70-47 Thursday to pass the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhood Act."

The bill now goes to the Senate for approval, where it is also expected to pass. Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, who won majorities last year for the first time in 140 years.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican who supports the measure, said he believes too little has been done on immigration policies and a crackdown is urgently needed.

"Perhaps it's boat-rocking time in Mississippi," said Bryant, surrounded by fellow supporters of HB 488 at the state Capitol, where he passionately advocated for immigration reform.

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The Mississippi bill includes measures like requiring police to check the immigration status of people who are arrested. It would also prohibit any "business transactions," including renewing a driver's license and getting a business license.

"Illegal immigration eliminates a lot of jobs for people who want to provide for their families. Passing this bill will open up more jobs and lower unemployment for the state," said Rodney Hunt, chairman of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, a proponent of immigration reform.

Neighboring Alabama has one of the strictest immigration reform laws in the country. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, temporarily blocked the enforcement of two provisions of the Alabama law: one voiding contracts signed by those in the United States illegally and another prohibiting illegal immigrants from having transactions with the state for services, including licenses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it has told Mississippi it will sue the state if the bill passes.

"I would suggest that just because the state can pass that doesn't mean it's a good idea," said Mary Bower, legal director for the SPLC.

Said the governor's spokesman, Mick Bullock: "Governor Bryant will not be deterred."

A number of Southern states, including Lousiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia, passed similar immigration laws at the start of the year in the wake of a controversial law passed in Arizona in 2010.

The Arizona law became the focus of national media and legal attention. Among other provisions, it would require that local police, during the enforcement of other laws, check the immigration status of anyone they suspected of being undocumented.

The U.S. Supreme Court plans to consider a challenge to Arizona's law in April.

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