Immigration reform issues are slowly evolving

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sid Salter

Sid Salter

A decade ago, while serving as state auditor, Phil Bryant offered taxpayers a performance audit entitled “The Impact of illegal Immigration on Mississippi: Costs and Population Trends.”

The bottom line of that report? An estimated 49,000 Mississippi illegal immigrants were contributing about $44.2 million annually in sales and income taxes to the state’s revenue stream while accounting for at least $69.2 million in education, healthcare, public safety and “remittance” costs (the money sent back to their home country by working illegal immigrants).

The conclusion was that illegal immigration was costs Mississippi taxpayers about a net $25 million annually – and that figure excluded “services such as Medicaid, worker’s compensation, unemployment benefits, or other welfare programs.”

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Bryant’s report was the first significant attempt by Mississippi state government to quantify the issue. But at the time of issue, many in the immigrant community questioned Bryant’s motives in compiling the information in the report – pointing out that Bryant had aspirations for higher office and that immigrant-bashing in some circles was a good political wedge issue. For his part, Bryant said that his report should be taken on face value – taxpayers needed to know the costs that illegal immigration exacts from Mississippi.

Fast forward a decade. Phil Bryant is now in his second term as Mississippi’s governor. Illegal immigration remains a potent political issue both in Mississippi and in the current presidential campaign. Republican Donald Trump’s success in the GOP primaries was linked, in part, to his stance on immigration.

So, too, has Trump’s recent slide in the polls as the GOP nominee likewise been linked to that stance. But it’s also noteworthy to point out that nationally, the entire issue of illegal immigration is evolving, shifting, and changing. Here in Mississippi, as nationally, new voices are being heard on the issue from perspectives that are different than a decade ago.

One of Mississippi’s most influential and conservative political groups has in recent weeks joined a national group in calling for a measure program of national immigration reform. The Mississippi Farm Bureau went public earlier this month with an appeal based on the implications of immigration reform on agriculture in Mississippi.

Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president Mike McCormick told the media earlier this month: ““We feel like we have two choices. We have to import our labor or will have to import our food. The people here in the U.S., I believe, we want our American farmers to produce our food here in the U.S.”

McCormick cited statistics generated from the “Reason for Reform” campaign by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group made up of governmental and business leaders. Led by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fox News mogul Rupert Murdoch, the organization has backing from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies like Google, Intel, Microsoft, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The groups generated detailed reports on the economic impact of immigrants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Mississippi report identified some 63,051 residents of the state who were born abroad, accounting for 2.1 percent of the state population.

More to the point, the Mississippi report focused on the story of northeast Mississippi farmer Melissa Edmondson, whose prior difficulties in procuring legal immigrant labor through the U.S. Department of Labor process threatened the loss of her sweet potato crop.

With Trump attempting to ameliorate his position on immigration in recent days, the emergence of a different national narrative on immigration reform comes into sharper focus. Conversations I had over the summer with conservative farmers tells me McCormick and the Farm Bureau may be getting traction in their push for smarter immigration solutions.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him