Analysis: Mississippi Republicans line up to support immigration arrests

Published 6:22 am Monday, August 19, 2019

Many Mississippi Republican officials see the immigration raids on seven chicken processing plants earlier this month not only as good policy, but as good politics.

The raids were maybe most a gift to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who lucked into a Twitter clash with Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar, currently a huge target of GOP attacks.

On the day the raids led to 680 arrests, Reeves tweeted his support , writing in part that he was “glad to see that ICE is working hard to enforce our immigration laws. 680 aliens detained in Mississippi today. We must enforce our laws, for the safety of all Americans.”

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One of the many critics who fired back was Omar, writing “How dare you applaud as hundreds of children are left orphaned by ICE… This is the language of dehumanization and its only logical end is violence.”

Reeves replied that “it is wrong to demonize the brave work of our law enforcement” and that Omar’s “no-borders vision is a non-starter in Mississippi.” Reeves even ended up being interviewed on Fox News.

And while it’s unclear if Reeves swayed national opinion, that’s not the forum that matters most to him right now. Instead, he’s running to the right in the Republican runoff for the gubernatorial nomination against former Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. With Reeves billing himself as the “only true conservative” and having spent months making culture war against “elites” and “Hollywood liberals,” a fight with an actual liberal was a perfect fit.

It could be die-hard conservative base voters who make it to the polls for the Aug. 27 runoff, so going to the right on immigration could be a potent appeal to a shrunken runoff electorate.

Reeves also managed to get in a swipe at Democratic gubernatorial nominee and Attorney General Jim Hood, blaming him for failing to enforce state laws against hiring jobseekers without documents. Hood, for his part voiced concern for children on the day of the raids, but said he didn’t see it as a major issue for state government, saying it’s a federal problem.

“As a prosecutor all these years — they need to follow the law. But there’s a human element, too, especially dealing with kids,” Hood said.

Reeves is not the only one who has lined up in support of the arrests. On Thursday U.S. Rep Steven Palazzo’s campaign sent out a one-question survey stating: “I have always believed in upholding the rule of law in our nation when it comes to immigration… Do you stand with Immigration and Customs Enforcement?” There probably won’t be a lot “no” responses there.

Both outgoing Gov. Phil Bryant and Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson last week forwarded a retweet by the White House twitter account of a Breitbart story framed around the idea that arresting immigrants was clearing the way for American citizens to apply for poultry plant jobs.

“I’m encouraged to see the continued reports of growing interest of our local jobseekers in these open poultry plant jobs,” Gipson wrote.

One group not united in support of the raids? People actually applying for jobs. Reporters asked multiple people at a job fair for Koch Foods whether they felt Latino immigrants had taken jobs away from them, and several noted that it’s not hard to get hired for the tough jobs of slaughtering and butchering chickens. Some people said they hoped chicken processors would be forced to pay more with so many workers arrested, but the dominant feeling toward immigrants was sympathy.

“They’re good people,” applicant Eddie Nicholson Jr. said last week. “Everybody’s trying to make a dollar, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Jeff Amy has covered politics and government for The Associated Press in Mississippi since 2011.