Blurred lines in Mississippi politics

Jun 1, 2015

By Karson Brandenburg-Hoagland
NNAF News Fellow | University of Mississippi

Discussion of immigration reform may look red and blue in news reports, divided along political lines, but in Mississippi, it’s a little more gray.

President Obama issued a series of executive actions Nov. 20, prompting a whole new conversation about immigration.

These actions included expansion of the current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and initiation of a new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. The first allows people who arrived in the U.S. before 1964 and before they were 16 years old to avoid deportation by applying for deferred action while they work toward citizenship. The second, and most recent, allows for parents of children born here to also get on board with delayed deportation while they work toward citizenship.

Immigration isn’t something that solely affects states on the border, where tempers have flared and immigration is caught up in volatile political battles. 

Realistically, southern agricultural states like Mississippi are at the forefront of the battle, too.

Immigration impacts agricultural states like Mississippi because agricultural industries—farming, shrimping, etc.—need migrant workers for work like picking crops and staffing crews on the shrimp boats.

Hence, the gray hue of immigration reform is evident in Mississippi politics. Run by Republican politicians, the state must balance political loyalties with the needs of Mississippians.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-MS, has been long involved in a battle to keep new regulations from hampering the H-2B temporary visa program for foreign workers, which allows seasonal immigrants to supplement the workforce, especially in the Gulf Coast states. 

 “Shrimpers, foresters and other seasonal industries across Mississippi rely on the H-2B program to supplement their permanent workforce as they fight to protect American jobs by keeping their businesses open year-round,” Cochran said in a news release. “The irresponsible decision to stop the H-2B program sowed hardship and uncertainty, two things that make running a business more difficult.”

Although Mississippi does have different priorities than some of the northern states, Cochran’s stance aligns with the majority of the Republican party when it comes to Obama’s executive actions relating to deferred action legislation.

Cochran’s senior communications director, Chris Gallegos, said that Cochran “supports the rule of law and has opposed the president’s unilateral actions regarding the illegal immigrants in the U.S.”

Gallegos also said that although Cochran does support the H-2B program for temporary worker visas, he still believes that preventive measures, such as increased border security, need to be addressed.

Laura Vazquez, senior immigration legislative analyst for the National Council of La Raza—the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S.—said the council supported and even encouraged Obama’s executive action.

The basis of her reasoning was that in 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive bill with bipartisan support, and La Raza pushed for that legislation.

“We thought that it was a difficult bill,” Vazquez said. “It’s not what NCLR would have written, but it was a compromise.”

And Vazquez said that her group was willing to make that compromise, even though the bill had a longer path to citizenship than it wanted. 

When the House failed to pass the bill, Vazquez said her group thought it was a failure to do their job.

“So we thought it was critical that the president address the situation with his impact,” Vazquez said.

Now, Vazquez says that comprehensive immigration reform needs to be addressed because it impacts more than just the immigrants.

“One of the things that we know is that this isn’t an issue that touches just someone who is undocumented,” Vazquez said. “This isn’t an issue that touches people just in isolation. Undocumented immigrants are married to U.S. citizens, working with U.S. citizens.”

Conn Carroll, now communications director for Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, and formerly White House correspondent for, said that sympathy isn’t a good enough reason for amnesty-like programs like the president’s.

 “I think the big problem with conservatives right now is that we’re not having a real honest conversation on either side,” said Carroll. “We can’t just keep saying, ‘The people here today are special and tomorrow we’ll start deporting people.’”

Immigration reformation may not be a conversation that has clear sides or a clear resolution, but in Mississippi, most agree it’s a conversation that needs to be had until a compromise and conclusion are reached.