The multi-billion dollar chicken business in Mississippi at heart of why state leaders repeatedly balk at tougher immigration rules

Published 11:44 am Thursday, August 22, 2019

By Anna Wolfe
Mississippi Today

The early August day when federal immigration agents raided seven chicken processing plants, detaining nearly 700 workers across central Mississippi, gubernatorial candidate and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves praised agents for their work.

“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. Well done,” he tweeted, tagging both U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst and President Donald Trump.

Gov. Phil Bryant too praised the raids, also tagging the Trump-appointed Hurst in a Twitter post: “If you are here illegally violating federal laws, you have to bear the responsibility of that federal violation.”

Despite the enthusiasm Mississippi officials showed for the raids, Mississippi has seen a succession of failed legislative attempts to pass tougher state-level immigration laws in the past eight years.

In the 2012 session, the year Republicans controlled the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion for the first time since Reconstruction ended, the House passed legislation that, among other things, required local law enforcement to request authorizing documents from anyone suspected of being unlawfully present in the country.

The legislation, called the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act and authored by Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, was billed as a major deterrent to undocumented immigrants locating Mississippi. Also dubbed a “papers, please” law, it followed similar measures enacted in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.

After passing the House, opposition from the business community, especially agriculture groups, and local law enforcement officials grew as the Senate prepared to take up the bill. Reeves, the presiding officer in the Senate, took much of the blame for the bill’s demise.

“We actually gave the lieutenant governor an ‘F’ on illegal immigration,” Rodney Hunt, then-president of the Mississippi Federation for Immigration Reform and Enforcement, said in 2012.