Fly buzzing around your picnic this summer? Just pull out the nearest sledgehammer and give it a good whack or two.
That’s the type of measured response shown by the immigration law changes enacted by the legislature this year and signed by the governor on Monday. It’s not that we don’t have illegal immigration or need to address it, but the scope of the problem simply doesn’t justify a new $1.3 million immigration task force with custom uniforms and cars, or some of the other unsettling proposals and poorly thought out ideas in the act.
The latest report on the state’s illegal immigrant population by the Pew Research Center found that the number of undocumented residents in South Carolina has already fallen 20 percent from 2007 to 2010. The same report estimated that about 1.2 percent of the state’s population is here illegally, compared to about 3.5 percent in North Carolina and 4.3 percent in Georgia.
Perhaps chief among the complaints about this year’s act is the new mandate for law enforcement officers to check the citizenship status of anybody they detain – whether on the street, in a traffic stop or as part of another arrest – if they feel there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an illegal immigrant. The act goes on to say that police are not allowed to base that suspicion on race or national origin, but barring a T-shirt that says, “I’m here illegally,” it’s hard to see how the new rule will lead to anything other than racial profiling and subsequently to lawsuit headaches for the state.
In fact, Reggie Lloyd, the soon to be former chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, has said that one of the first projects he plans to undertake in the law office he’s opening will be a challenge of the new immigration law. Lloyd went on to tell the Charleston Post & Courier this week that the state should be focusing on drugs and gangs, and he credited the state’s Hispanic community with creating an unwelcome atmosphere for Latino gangs in South Carolina. As he put it, the state is ignoring what should be its real priorities and instead is wasting its time going after people mowing lawns and nailing shingles on roofs.
One concern that has received little attention so far is the ID requirement that will go into effect Jan. 1. Starting then, any adults in the state who are not citizens will be required to carry proof of their legal status at all times. If they’re caught in public without identification, they will be subject to a $100 fine and/or 30 days in jail. Is this really the type of police state we want to create? Most people already carry ID of some sort on their persons as a matter of course, but few would expect to face 30 days in jail for not having their driver’s license in their pocket.
Another issue looming large is the increased burden the law places on businesses. South Carolina already required businesses to verify the citizenship of their employees, but previously allowed them to use either a driver’s license or the federal E-Verify system. All businesses will now have to use E-Verify, regardless of their size. This shouldn’t be much of an issue for large businesses, but the hassle will be compounded for smaller businesses, which may not be familiar with the system or only hire somebody once every couple of years. Some rural businesses or farms may not even have the Internet access to access E-Verify.
The legislature tried to work around this concern, requiring the state Department of Employment and Workforce to provide E-Verify help to any business that needs it. Spokeswoman Mary-Kathryn Craft said Thursday that help will consist of providing Internet access or training at any regional workforce center. On the Grand Strand, that means trekking to Conway or Georgetown to check the status of a new hire.
Frank Knapp, the CEO of the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, was particularly disdainful of the new frustration this creates for smaller employers, telling us this week, “It promotes either, ‘Oh, forget it, I’m not going to hire somebody,’ or you break the law.”
Even beyond the headache the rule may create for small businesses, there remain lingering questions about whether E-Verify actually does what it’s meant to, namely prevent illegal immigrants from finding employment. A 2010 report by an outside auditor found that the system was simply not set up to detect identity fraud, and unauthorized workers were declared eligible to work 54 percent of the time. The Department of Homeland Security, which runs E-Verify, tried to put a positive spin on the statistic, saying that “E-Verify accurately detects the status of unauthorized workers almost half the time.” To be fair, some tweaks have been made since the report was issued in an attempt to improve the system’s accuracy, but it’s still far from foolproof.
Illegal immigration is a real concern, one that states have unfortunately been led to address because of a lack of action on the federal level, but this time our state went too far. Our leaders called in a crop duster to kill a weed on the sidewalk, and we’re worried about what else will pay the price.