Pickering: "Secure Our Border"

By: Wendy Suares
By: Wendy Suares

Monday's "Immigrant Justice Rally" brought hundreds to the state Capitol. Many protested legislation that would make illegal aliens felons and secure the Mexican border with walls and new technology. It's a move U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering supports.

"Our first responsibility is to secure our border," said Pickering, "then have a system that we hope would transition those that are here illegally."

Immigrant rights advocates say they want that "transition" to mean the chance to become American citizens. There are an estimated 100,000 illegal immigrants in Mississippi.

"It's so many struggles that they went through to bring themselves here. Better themselves, better their families. They've been hiding in the shadows for so many years now," said Jerrico Romero, an immigration advocate.

Pickering said he supports a guest worker program that would allow the path to citizenship, but first, illegal immigrants would be required to pay fines and learn English.

"If you are here illegally, if you break the law, there should be consequences," Pickering said.

But the hundreds of immigrants who protested Monday say they're not criminals, but have come to take the jobs other Mississippians won't.

"We didn't come here to do nothing bad, just work," said Victor Melendez, an immigrant.

Pickering admits several industries in Mississippi are dependent on immigrant labor.

"Agriculture, forestry, poultry processing. We need immigrant work force to continue growing and have prosperity, but does that mean we need an illegal system? No," said Pickering.

Rallies like this one continue to build pressure on lawmakers to reform immigration. So far, the U.S. Senate and House haven't agreed on a compromise bill.

There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

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