September 11, 2012


In the 2012 legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers wisely refused to pass Arizona/Alabama-style immigration legislation, which would have taken a tremendous toll on civil liberties and the economy in our state. The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision inArizona v. United Statesmakes the passage of constitutionally authorized Arizona-style legislation even more difficult, as the Court invalidated most of Arizona's law on federal preemption grounds and left open the possibility of further civil rights challenges.

Federal Preemption

InArizona v. United States, the Court issued a strong rebuke to Arizona lawmakers who involved their state in immigration enforcement. The Court struck down three of the four Arizona provisions it considered on the grounds of federal preemption. It found that it was too early to tell whether the fourth provision, Section 2B (commonly known as "show me your papers"), violated the Constitution as well.

Civil Liberties Concerns

The Court held that the constitutionality of the "show me your papers" provision would depend on the interpretation of the law's language by Arizona courts and actual implementation by state law enforcement. In other words, the Court allowed for the possibility of further challenges based on civil liberties violations.

It is impossible to enforce laws like Section 2B without using race, color, or ethnicity. "Show me your papers" provisions are inherently unequal in how they treat people, as the ACLU and its allies will ultimately prove in court. In all likelihood, either further proceedings in this case, or soon-to-be restarted proceedings in other cases (including the civil rights suit brought by the ACLU and others) could lead to another injunction to stop enforcement of Section 2B and similar laws—including any passed in Mississippi.

Economic and Humanitarian Toll

Besides the federal preemption and civil liberties concerns raised by state immigration "enforcement" laws, such policies would also take a tremendous toll on Mississippi's economy. In a recent cost-benefit analysis of HB 56 in Alabama, University of Alabama economist Dr. Samuel Addy concluded
that the state's immigration law could cost the state up to $10.8 billion.[i] We have all seen pictures and heard stories about ripe crops rotting in fields in neighboring Alabama and Georgia due to anti-immigrant legislation in those states. Such legislation would not only make Mississippi an undesirable environment for investment, but it also would leave the state and local law enforcement departments open to tremendous legal liability as well, increasing costs for Mississippi taxpayers. According to ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Bear Atwood, "Mississippi has already looked to its neighbor Alabama, and seen that this kind of anti-immigrant law is bad for business, bad for law enforcement and that it would be bad for Mississippi. We don't want to see our crops die in the field, we don't want to see our law enforcement resources diverted from keeping our communities safe and we don't want to see our basic values of fairness and equality violated."

Even more importantly, laws like Alabama's break families apart and make immigrant communities – and Latinos and Asians more generally – feel unwelcome, creating a climate of suspicion and fear in people's daily interactions with law enforcement, even when they are victims of crime.


Lawmakers in many states, including Mississippi, have smartly refused to pass anti-immigrant laws such as those passed in Arizona and Alabama. Not only would federal law likely preempt such laws, but most of them would also likely violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Anti-immigrant provisions also waste precious taxpayer and law enforcement resources, create a negative business environment, and tear families apart. As such, the ACLU of Mississippi will fight any attempt to pass another law like Arizona's and will keep fighting to prevent any laws that have been or may be passed from being enforced.

[i] Samuel Addy, "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the New Alabama Immigration Law," University of Alabama Center for Business and Economic Research (January 2012),