Immigration Law Has a Big LoopholePress

Published on March 21, 2012

By Corey Hutchins | Free Times

South Carolina’s public officials have had an awkward relationship with illegal immigration ever since they introduced legislation aimed at cracking down on it a few years ago.

The state has one of the fastest-growing Hispanic populations in the country, and agricultural business is the state’s top industry.

The situation got more awkward when The State published a March 18 story exposing a loophole that exempts farm hands,private aids and nannies from status checks that employers are mandated to rerformon other workers. The exemptions were also in a 2008 law; lawmakers tried to remove the loophole in a separate bill that never passed or received any public debate.

South Carolina’s immigration law, a copycat version of Arizona’s controversial “papers please” law,went into effect Jan. 1. It requires that all private employers in the stateuse a federal database called E-Verify to check the immigration status of newemployees.

The State pointed out, however, that an obscure loophole in the law “provides exceptions for four categories of workers 97 agriculture laborers, domestic workers in a private residence, ministers and fishermen working on crews of 10 or fewer people.”

More disturbingly, lawmakers apparently slipped in the loophole without much — or any — public debate.

A South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center staff attorney, who followed the bill’s movement through committee hearings and debate, said she never heard of the exemption until after it was passed.

“I do not remember that being publicly stated,”Tammy Besherse told The State. “I don’t think I missed a meeting.”

Roan Garcia-Quintana, an Upstate conservative activist and supporter of the bill, tells Free Times he, too, doesn’t recall any public debate about exempting farm workers, though he remembers hearing some discussion about nannies.

Frank Knapp, host of the Columbia-based progressive talk radio show U Need 2 Know, might have been the first media entity to get tipped off about it. He is also the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small business Chamber of Commerce. Knapp says it was then-director of the state’s labor agency, Catherine Templeton, who alerted him to the exemptions in the law after Knapp gave a TV interview about the immigration bill.

Once The State wrote about the loophole, the Washington, gossip website Wonkette summarized the news succinctly in a deadline: “Immigration Law Secretly Exempted Jobs South Carolinians Really Want Mexicans to Do.”

Knapp, who fought the bill on behalf of his small business group, laughed when he heard Wonkette’s snarky take, and while he said the language was blunt, he added that it’s “probably not that inaccurate.”

Columbia attorney Tom Turnipseed, who also fought the bill, says Wonkette’s take is dead on.

“Hell yeah,” he said. “It’s a big political sham. It’s politics and it’s playing on racism. They got a deal cut.”

Knapp says the exemptions are unfair to the best of businesses in the state that must comply with the E-Verify candidates. “In order to pass a bill, they gutted a lot of the intent,” he says.

As for Garcia-Quintana, a Cuban immigrant who says his family had to work hard to become American citizens the legal way, the state’s new illegal immigration law that he helped fight for is still a work in progress.

And the fact that lawmakers were able to slip in the loophole without him knowing?

“We’re going to have to correct it,” he says.

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