JACKSON – A bill that cleared the Senate on Tuesday gives law enforcement the authority to question and arrest suspected illegal immigrants as a secondary offense.

The legislation now heads to the House.

Called “Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act of 2011,” the act will require law enforcement officers to make a reasonable effort and ask a person for proof of citizenship or legal residency only after a person has been stopped for another offense — called a primary offense. The officer must also have a reasonable suspicion that the person is an illegal immigrant before requesting the proof.

A primary offense includes speeding or failing to stop at a stop sign.

“There should be no reason why law enforcement authorities can not ask for proof of citizenship during a routine traffic stop,” Lt. Gov. Bryant said. “I am very gratified that the Senate passed this legislation that will keep our legal citizens of Mississippi safe.”

“Mississippi motorists can be required to show a driver’s license or a proof of insurance. What makes a proof of citizenship or legal residency any different?”

The bill also makes it illegal for a person to knowingly conceal or harbor an illegal immigrant. But charitable organizations and groups using private funds are exempt from this section as well as individuals providing medical, legal or other professional services to illegal immigrants.

Another section of the legislation referred to as the Mississippi Employment Protection Act clarifies existing law concerning reporting violations of hiring illegal immigrants for employment. The legislation further makes the Attorney General the main investigative agency for reporting violations and provides a complaint form for private citizens to report possible violations.

Lastly, the legislation extends the E-Verify law to cover third-party employers. The bill provides that the first violation would result in a 10-day suspension of the licenses issued by the state or local governments and for a second violation would result in a permanent loss of the licenses.

Any fines collected under the bill will be used to reimburse local law enforcement for the cost of housing the illegal immigrants. The fund is referred to as the Immigration Reimbursement Program and is administered by the Department of Public Safety.

While serving as State Auditor, Bryant issued a report that details the costs and population trends of illegal immigrants in Mississippi. At that time the report estimated that 49,000 illegal immigrants reside in Mississippi. This is after ICE (Immigration and Custom Enforcement) had estimated that as many as 90,000 illegal immigrants live in Miss.

“Critics question the cost of this legislation however the cost of not passing this legislation is far greater,” said Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall. “According to the Auditor’s Report issued in 2006, state taxpayers were spending some $25 million a year as costs associated with the presence of illegal immigrants.”

The report further stated the financial impact of illegal immigrants on the State is estimated at $25 million per year, health care costs as high as $35 million per year, and an education cost of $24 million per year.

SB 2179 passed the Senate 34 to 15 and is now headed to the House of Representatives for consideration.

SB 2179:

Lt. Governor Phil Bryant Press Release