Candidate’s comments about Mexican immigrants causes firestorm

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

Governor Phil Bryant gives a speech during the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia Thursday, August 2, 2018.

Gov. Phil Bryant accused the media of “a double standard” Thursday for not reporting on comments state Rep. Michael Evans of Preston made about Mexican immigrants during the annual political speakings at the Neshoba County Fair.

Speaking last Wednesday, Evans, who is the Democratic nominee for the 3rd District U.S. House seat, described a purported conversation he had with a woman in southwest Mississippi who said Mexican immigrants were taking jobs away from her three sons.

“Do you want to pay these Mexicans back tonight?” Evans said he asked the woman. “I said, ‘I guarantee if your three boys want to work tonight I will get them a job … You have your boys in Philadelphia tonight at that chicken plant, we will put all three to work.’”

Evans said the woman said the boys did not want to work in the chicken plant because they had college degrees. He said if the boys did not have jobs it was not the fault of undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today

U.S. House District 3 Democratic candidate Michael Ted Evans, speaking Wednesday during the Neshoba County Fair said: “I ain’t seen a Mexican cross the border yet with a college education.” 

“I ain’t seen a Mexican cross the border yet with a college education,” he said. “… These Mexicans coming over here, most of them want to work. I want to secure the border. I am all about putting up the wall, securing your border and keeping the Mexicans out.

“But folks you have to realize our farmers of the state have to have immigrants. If you want a clean motel room, you have to have immigrants to clean them. If you want your chickens caught and your produce picked, our farmers need immigrants. ”

Bryant said it would have been controversial if he had made similar comments. He criticized members of the media for not reporting on the comments from Evans, and said the media had said Evans had made the best speech from the Neshoba County Fair.

Mississippi Today did not report on the comments Evans made about the educational attainment level of undocumented immigrants, but did report what Evans said later in the speech about undocumented immigrants. He said, “I am for legalizing and getting the things right so immigrants can become citizens.”

On Thursday, Bryant spoke passionately as he accused the media of a double standard.

Referring to Evans’ statement that he had not seen a Mexican cross the border with a college degree and that the immigrants were needed to clean hotel rooms and work on farms, Bryant said, “If I or any other Republican had made such an offensive remark, you would have seen it on the front pages. CNN would have had a trailer out front trying to interview me the next day. They would have been calling for me to resign from office.

“It’s that double standard that lights the fire of the hearts of conservatives. You will probably read about that tomorrow how I had to go and attack the media. I am not attacking anybody. I feel sorry for them. ”

Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance.

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, said, “I suspect Michael Evans is somebody who is sympathetic to the plight of immigrants,” but said he was wrong to the facts. Chandler  said there are immigrants coming into the country with college and professional degrees. He said in the 1990s, there were physicians who sought asylum from Argentina working in chicken plants in Mississippi.

And more recently, he said there are immigrants seeking asylum from Mexico and Central American countries with college degrees, particularly Mexican journalists whose lives have been threatened.

Chandler has long accused Bryant of supporting and enacting polices that were unfair toward immigrants.

Bryant said on his web site in 2011, “As the federal government continues to turn a blind eye to the problem, I will urge our lawmakers to pass legislation that will make sure available jobs are only going to people who are here legally. While E-Verify has been successful in helping employers check the status of their employees, we must do more. I will continue to support Arizona-style immigration legislation so that anyone stopped for a motor vehicle violation or another primary offense can be asked to provide proof of citizenship.”

The law enforcement and business communities have blocked several attempts to pass legislation requiring police officers to ask motorists about their immigration status. In 2017, Bryant signed a proposal into law that prohibits local governments from passing legislation designed to protect undocumented immigrants from criminal prosecution.

As state auditor, Bryant’s office conducted a study that said undocumented immigrants at the time in the early 2000s were costing the state $25 million annually. The study has continued to be widely circulated by some conservatives while critics say the report cherry-picked facts and ignored immigrants’ tax contributions to the economy.

Also at the Neshoba County Fair Thursday, Bryant called Donald Trump, “one of the greatest presidents the United States has ever seen.”

Of Mexicans, Trump said in 2015, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”