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Illegal Immigration Issues Top Biloxi Town Meeting with
Cong. Gene Taylor

by Keith Burton - GCN 5/31/07 

It was a small group that attended a rare Biloxi town meeting with Congressman Gene Taylor (D) Thursday evening, but on the minds of most of the participants was not the big issue of the last 21 months, that being Katrina and FEMA's response. What took most of Taylor's time were questions over the illegal immigration issue and what was happening in Washington. Taylor also commented on the assistance the Coast is receiving in rebuilding and on the way the federal money is being handled.

While the Coast is largely a Republican stronghold, Taylor a Democrat, is widely popular for his conservative values and voting record, and his strong support for the military. Some observers believe Thursday evening's meeting was a first for him to hold a town meeting in the Biloxi City Council chambers. Taylor's home is in Hancock County.

The audience of 35 people was clearly well informed over national and local issues. Taylor fielded questions over why Congress is having trouble with immigration issue. Taylor is on record opposing the current immigration bill being hotly debated in the Senate, which many people feel does not do enough to stem the 12-million plus immigrants, most illegal that are settling around the country.

"I would like to see stronger enforcement and higher penalties against companies that hire illegal workers," Taylor said. Taylor said he would also would like to see a way developed to help employers identify potential employees that are not qualified to work in the U.S.

He told the audience that when his home, which was destroyed by Katrina, was rebuilt, that he insisted that the contractor hire citizens to do the work, "even if it cost me more money," Taylor said. When asked why so many more Hispanics are on the Coast, Taylor said, "Because they know there is work to be done here."

Taylor added that the issue has to be handled at the federal level. "This is too big for Biloxi or even Mississippi," Taylor said.

Taylor was asked about the slow progress in the recovery in some communities on the Coast. Taylor said Biloxi is doing exceedingly well and that Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway's decision to acquire loss of business insurance was "brilliant." That policy paid for the loss of tax income, primarily from the casinos, that had to close after the hurricane. He said Biloxi's recovery so far has been a result of the casino industry not giving up on Biloxi and reinvesting after the storm to rebuild their properties. But Taylor said getting help from Washington is getting more difficult.

"Many people hear that Biloxi is doing alright and that's all they know, as if Biloxi is the only city that got hurt in the hurricane. They don't realize the needs in the other communities, but we are trying to help these communities," Taylor said. But he added that the way the Coast is handling the recovery money is being noted. "We are counting on these communities to be good stewards of the money we are giving them."

Taylor was also asked about why so much of the money for water and sewer plant rebuilding has been earmarked by the state for new plants north of the Coast's cities. Many of the Coast's water and sewer plants were damaged by the hurricane and are not operating at normal levels.

"The powers that be in Jackson made that decision, it was not our intent," Taylor said in an obvious reference to Governor Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Development Authority. "But once the money got sent to Jackson, we are not in control of that money," Taylor said.

He told  participants that it appeared that officials felt the money could be better spent to support Coast residents that moved inland in areas not served by water utilities. Taylor noted that he is aware of the water and sewer problems in some communities.

"Even before Katrina, Gulfport was asking for nearly a quarter billion dollars in federal aid for water and sewer issues in their city," Taylor said.

Taylor also was asked about the growing costs of insurance and how those costs are cutting into redevelopment. Taylor told the questioner that he supports reforms at the federal level to control the insurance industry. "I think there should be national control of the insurance industry instead of 50 different standards where the insurance industry plays off one state against the other," Taylor said.

The Insurance industry is currently regulated by the states.

Not in attendance at the meeting was Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway or most of the City Council. Councilman George Lawrence, also a Democrat, was at the meeting, although Democratic Councilman Bill Stallworth was not. GCN also noted there did not appear to be any other members of the news media present.

After the meeting, Taylor left for dinner with a few of his staff members. GCN noted that Taylor left alone driving a Jeep Wrangler, no big black luxury car for him it seems. Dinner was at Schooner's Restaurant, a popular local restaurant that relocated to a downtown location after its building on Point Cadet was leveled by Katrina's storm surge.

What was very clear at this town meeting was that residents in Biloxi are seeing other issues besides Katrina, and that is a good sign of progress. A FEMA official in the audience commented after the meeting, with relief, that the comments were not about them.

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