COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's House Judiciary Committee voted 15-7 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would require law enforcement to check the status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally during a stop or arrest for something else. Opponents argued that the measure would worsen racial profiling and flies in the face of American freedoms.
Republicans who control the House have called the bill a priority for the session, which ends in two weeks. Approval by the full House would send the bill to a conference committee to work out differences with senators over their version passed earlier this year.
The measure requires law enforcement to try to check the status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. It specifies that the query must follow a stop or arrest for something else. Unlike a law passed in Arizona last year, it says people can't be held on the suspicion. Instead, they must be processed normally if authorities don't respond or can't verify the person's status.
But Rep. Todd Rutherford argued the bill is too open-ended. Without defining reasonable suspicion, or how long someone could be held up on the side of the road, legislators are opening the door for abuse, he said.
Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said if someone can't speak English well and doesn't have identification, that's reasonable suspicion.
Rutherford, who is black, recalled when an officer with a baton told him to cross to the other side of the street for no reason, while others walked by. For legislators to say that only illegal immigrants will be targeted is naïve, he said, adding that his white colleagues will never understand how such treatment feels.
"It happens to illegals and people like me who don't have the benefit of your color," said Rutherford, D-Columbia. "It will only get worse with this bill."
Rep. Bakari Sellers said it's hypocritical for Republicans to talk about cutting government spending while pushing a bill that expands law enforcement's duties and creates a new unit within the Department of Public Safety to enforce state immigration laws.
The 26-year-old Denmark Democrat said foreign college students and others visiting legally will be targeted too.
Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, said they should expect to carry around their paperwork, noting she just returned from a trip overseas.
"When I travel in foreign countries, I don't go anywhere without my passport," she said.
Supporters said the cost of providing education, emergency room health care and other services to illegal immigrants far outweighs the cost of the bill. They said they hope it prompts illegal workers to flee.
The measure would also make it a felony to make fake photo IDs for illegal immigrants. It would also toughen a measure passed in 2008 that put the onus on businesses to check their employees' legal status. It began applying to businesses of all sizes last year.
The change would allow the state's labor agency to fine businesses up to $50,000 if they're repeatedly caught not checking employees' status or for knowingly hiring illegal workers, then refuse to comply with a temporary shut-down order.
Freshman Rep. Tom Corbin, who runs a landscape business, said he knows from experience that businesses employing illegal workers get an unfair advantage because they pay their workers less and can bid jobs for less money. The Travelers Rest Republican said legislators need to give the agency the ability to enforce the laws.Tags: