By Robbie Ward
STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Reuters) - Mississippi lawmakers moved closer to enacting legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants in the state, though the proposal does not go as far as neighboring Alabama's law, widely seen as the toughest in the nation and now the focus of a court challenge by the Obama administration.
The Mississippi House of Representatives voted early on Thursday to pass the Mississippi Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act by a vote of 68-49.
The measure, the latest of several efforts by states in the South and West to enact stringent restrictions on illegal immigrants, now goes to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass the Republican-controlled upper house. Governor Phil Bryant, also a Republican, has spoken publicly in support of the legislation.
The Mississippi bill would require police to check the immigration status of individuals who are arrested. Unlike neighboring Alabama, it does not require police to check the immigration status of anyone they detain and suspect of being in the country illegally.
The approved version of the bill did not include earlier provisions that would have allowed police to check the immigration status of people pulled over in traffic and public schools to check the legal status of students.
Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, issued a brief order expanding its initial injunction against the Alabama law. It blocked enforcement of provisions that barred illegal immigrants from obtaining a driver's license and barred courts from enforcing contracts that involved illegal immigrants.
The appeals court in October blocked the state from enforcing another key provision of the law that required schools to check the immigration status of children upon enrollment.
Supporters of the Mississippi bill say it was crafted to survive court challenges.
The Obama administration has argued that regulation of immigration should be handled by the federal government and not the states.
In April the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a challenge to Arizona's immigration law, enacted in 2010.
(Reporting By Robbie Ward)