A new immigration law will not be passed in South Carolina this year, but lawmakers set the stage Thursday for one to be debated in 2011.
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee met to discuss a bill that would require police to check a person's residency status after he or she was stopped or detained for another reason. It also would make it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit work.
The committee reviewed an opinion by S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster that said the proposed law would be constitutional. It also discussed a fiscal impact statement that found the bill would place minimal financial burden on state law enforcement agencies.
The bill was submitted too late in this year's session to have a chance at becoming law.
Even so, Thursday's hearing was the second in a week on it. The hearing was more civil than the previous hearing, which deteriorated into a shouting match that had to be broken up by Senate security officers.
This time, legislators allowed public comment, most of which came from people who oppose the bill. Their testimony was part history lesson, part gospel meeting as they told legislators it went against the principles of the United States and the Bible's teachings. Most of the bill's opponents believe it would lead to racial profiling and polarize the state much like a similar law has in Arizona.
"It smacks of racism," said Bill Bunch, a Columbia small-business owner. "It smacks of pandering. You're using these people as pawns for your own political gain. It is embarrassing to South Carolina."
Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who chaired the subcommittee, insisted the legislators were not making political statements by holding the meetings. Instead, he said they wanted to get a jump on next year's work.
Martin had asked the attorney general to determine if any proposals in the bill would be unconstitutional. McMaster's 14-page response concluded that the bill would withstand a challenge in federal court. McMaster also noted that the bill specifically forbids racial profiling and discrimination.
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