The state just south of Memphis may be the next to put pressure on undocumented immigrants who relocate from south of the U.S. border.
A proposed bill in Mississippi would give police officers the right to report a person if they're reasonably suspicious that person is in the U.S. illegally. A group of Memphis residents are speaking out against the bill during a month-long walk through Mississippi.
José Salazar, Patricio Gonzalez, and Ingrid Cruz, all immigrants, are hoping to bring more awareness of how the bill would affect the rights of Latinos.
"They're basically legalizing racial profiling," said Gonzalez, a Memphis resident and immigrant from Argentina. "We want to know why they're implementing these laws. Are we going back in time?"
Dubbed the "Walk Against Fear," the trio's journey will kick off on March 11th at the National Civil Rights Museum. From 10 a.m. to noon, the group will speak on the Mississippi bill from the balcony where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Then the group will begin walking to Mississippi. The walk is slated to end on April 7th.
Besides bringing attention to the proposed bill, the walk is intended to bring about awareness of other recently passed anti-immigration laws in Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia.
The Alabama law, considered the strictest, gives police the authority to question a person's status upon "reasonable suspicion" that he or she is an illegal immigrant during any traffic stop, detention, or arrest. It also prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits and attending publicly owned colleges or universities. Mississippi's HB 488 would be a clone of the Alabama law if passed.
Mississippi state representative Becky Currie, who introduced the bill in February, wasn't available for comment.
"We want to let people know that [immigrants] are not being treated like human beings," Cruz said. "These anti-immigrant bills want to make it okay for the group to be considered among the second class."
The group will stop in various counties in Mississippi to meet the community and hold immigrants' rights workshops. Towns they're walking through include Southaven, Coldwater, Grenada, and Madison.
Cruz organized the walk after being inspired by James Meredith's "March Against Fear" in 1966. Meredith, the first black man to attend the University of Mississippi, and his friends embarked on a walk from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi, to encourage blacks to register to vote. Meredith will be present at the "Walk Against Fear" kickoff at the Civil Rights Museum.
Besides the three organizers, up to 30 people are expected to participate in the walk on the first day. There will be about 10 people walking an average of 10 miles per day throughout the remainder of the walk.
"People feel ashamed to say they're from a different country because of the racism that they [experience]," said Salazar, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and a Memphis resident. "We're all humans, and we deserve the same rights. We want to bring Martin Luther King's dream to the immigrant people."