Tammy Besherse, from S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center explained to a group of students at USC-Aiken that in order for the special unit to operate legally in the state must have training from ICE to handle immigration cases. With no legal power the members of the unit can only assist the federal agents. Those counties with the 287g agreement after arresting somebody who committed a law violation their police can refer the person to ICE.
South Carolina’s new immigration law, SB 20, gives law enforcement officers discretion to ask for proof of citizenship or legal residence based solely on “reasonable suspicion,” if they stop, detain, or arrest someone for a criminal offense. The new measure creates an Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit that would help police determine immigration status. The law also requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to determine whether job applicants are legal residents.
The state gave the unit $1.3 million last year to start up but organizers only spent $440,723. This year, the unit will operate on a $689,780 budget.
Although the S.C. unit didn’t receive ICE’s approval to check immigration status, they still have been working with the federal agency.
On December 2011 the U.S. District Court’s made the decision of blocking the implementation and enforcement of several key provisions of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, SB 20. The South Carolina Immigration Coalition (SCIC) has strongly opposed the law since it was pre-filed in the South Carolina General Assembly in 2010.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel’s ruling said that sections of SB 20 that require mandating police to demand “papers” of people in virtually any lawful stop; create a new state crime for transporting and harboring undocumented immigrants; and criminalize the failure to carry one’s “papers” at all times were likely to be found unconstitutional in further judicial proceedings.
“While supporters of the law may disagree with the federal government’s strategy or enforcement of immigration policy,” Judge Gergel said, “that opinion does not entitle the state of South Carolina to adopt its own immigration policy to supplant the policy of the national government.”
SCIC members hailed the decision as a victory for South Carolina and all its residents.
Eric Esquivel, co-chair of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition said, “This is a great day for South Carolina. No law can be considered just if it creates fear and isolates communities.”
“I am very happy with the judge’s decision. Lawmakers should focus on legislation that creates jobs and improves our education system instead of wasting our state’s money and time on unjust laws that divide our communities,” said Dot Scott, President of the Charleston NAACP.
Pastor Sandy Jones of the Spring of Life Lutheran Church said, “The faith community stood together against this immoral law and we are thankful for Judge Gergel's decision. It’s time to end the passage of bills that create fear and profiling in our communities. South Carolina must move forward and we must do it together.”
SB 20 (also known as Act 69) was signed into law on July 27 by Gov. Nikki Haley and was in effect on January 1, 2012. The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil and human rights groups and individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 20 in October. The U.S. Department of Justice filed its own challenge to the law in November.
On November 1, 2011, the Greenville News reported that U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, who represents South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, made remarks at Furman University in which he equated undocumented immigrants with vagrants and animals. The South Carolina Immigration Coalition issued the following statement regarding those remarks:
Congressman Duncan should apologize for his disgraceful statement comparing undocumented immigrants to animals and vagrants. Evoking images of "scary foreigners" is a tired trope of demagogues. Duncan's effort to denigrate people based on their immigration status is unworthy of an elected representative to Congress.
Sadly, Duncan is not alone in seeking to dehumanize our friends, relatives, neighbors and co-workers. The same harmful bias fueled the rush in the South Carolina legislature to pass SB 20, which now makes it a crime to give a person who is undocumented a ride to church and burdens our law enforcement with having to determine the immigration status of people they suspect - based primarily on their appearance or language skills - of being undocumented. Similar laws in Alabama, Arizona and Georgia have sown fear and confusion, harmed important industries, and sparked humanitarian crises.
Throughout history, people have moved from place to place in search of a better life. Migrants to the United States have helped build this nation, contributing to every facet of our society and our economy. We need an immigration system that works for everyone - native and foreign born. And South Carolina's representatives should be focused on workable solutions instead of divide-and-conquer strategies."
The Region's Economy Pay the Price
In South Carolina the Hispanic population had skyrocketed over this past decade, growing by 148% compared to 43% nationwide.
But the economic downturn in the United States hit Hispanics more than any other demographic, and a new and strict immigration law left many undocumented workers leaving the state and country altogether.
Enacted in June 2011, Act No. 69 made it legal for South Carolina police to stop anybody they suspect of being in the country illegally and made it a crime to give shelter or transport to an undocumented immigrant.
These provisions and others were blocked by a federal judge in December 2011, who saw them as unconstitutional. But fear of expensive fines and deportation had already spread among many Hispanics.
The region's economy has since been paying the price in empty apartments and less demand for low-wage jobs. But none have struggled more than the 6,000 Hispanic-owned businesses that heavily depend on customers from its community.
Similar cases of closed restaurants and stores owned by Hispanics are being reported in Georgia, after HB 87 became into effect in July of this year.
Gergel said he would issue a ruling in a few days, and also said the law was clearly crafted because state lawmakers didn't think the federal government was being aggressive enough in enforcing immigration laws.
"Arizona is a resounding confirmation of the role of the federal government in immigration," he said, noting, however, that the states did get something. "They get the right to make an inquiry" about someone's immigration status, he said.
Gergel added South Carolina has tried to go its own way before when it didn't like what the federal government was doing.
He quoted Charlestonian James L. Petigru who famously quipped when South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860 that the state was "too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum."
"We went down that road before," he said. "It didn't work out as well as we had planned."