By Seanna Adcox
South Carolina lawmakers advanced a bill Tuesday designed to further crack down on illegal immigration, a measure opponents call discriminatory and unnecessary.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to send to the full Senate a measure directing officers to check the immigration status of a person they suspect is in the country illegally. But the questions must follow a stop for something else. Producing a valid driver’s license, passport or military ID would satisfy the query.
The proposal resembles a measure passed in Arizona last year that inspired a flurry of lawsuits, protests and boycotts. Parts of the law took effect last July but a federal judge’s order blocked key provisions. The case is likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
South Carolina’s bill differs in that it directs local law enforcement to call Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to alert them. If ICE agents don’t respond to the call, the suspect has the right to a bond hearing.
“They would be run through the system like anyone else,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens. “We’re not holding people arbitrarily.”
Asked the purpose, he said he hopes the federal government’s phones “ring off the hook,” and that statistics generated from the calls help prompt federal action.
South Carolina is among 11 states considering an Arizona-like law this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The South Carolina bill specifies that suspicion can’t be based on race, color or national origin. But opponents contend that clause is meaningless and, in practice, the proposal legalizes racial profiling.
“It’s obvious the people who will be harassed and detained will look like I do,” said Ivan Segura of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, a citizen who was born in Mexico. “What does an undocumented person look like? I bet he looks like me. A lot of legal residents will be targeted.”
Opponents question the cost of implementing the law as the state faces an $830 million budget shortfall, and called it unnecessary.
The bill would expand on a 2008 law that was called one of the country’s toughest anti-illegal immigration measures. That phased-in law, which applied to all businesses as of last July, requires employers to check their workers’ legal status and threatens temporary shutdowns of businesses that repeatedly shirk the law or knowingly hire illegal workers.
A proposed change could levy more fines. Currently, the maximum fine is $1,000 per worker, but first offenses are waived. Over the past six months, penalties have tallied $900,000, but the state collected just $3,200. The change would leave fines to the discretion of the labor agency.
“We had to make that change to generate funding for the agency to do its job,” Martin said.
The bill would also shorten the time employers have to check new hires through the online federal program E-verify, from five days to three.
Diana Salazar of the Latino Association of Charleston said lawmakers need to recognize contributions illegal workers make to the state’s economy. America is made up of all nationalities, and Hispanics are only trying to live the American dream, she said.
“They spend money in Wal-Mart. They are gardeners. They are housekeepers. They iron our clothes, and they are cheap labor,” said Salazar, whose ancestors immigrated from Mexico. “This sends a message to the rest of the country of how discriminative we are, what fear we have as a state.”
If the bill passes, she said she hopes she’s targeted.
“I’ll open my mouth and speak the language the officer speaks and say, ‘This is racial profiling,’” she said. “Then I’ll file a lawsuit.”
Courtesy of DailyComet.com