on February 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Thompson criticizes state House bill on illegal immigration

The South Carolina Plan Bill Summary.

PICKENS COUNTY — The South Carolina Plan, tabbed as the most comprehensive illegal immigration reform ever considered by the General Assembly and passed by the House Wednesday, isn’t comprehensive enough as far as Clemson City Council member Margaret Thompson is concerned.

“What they have done is all politics — the bill should be uniform to everybody,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t go after the private sector nearly as much.”

While the bill requires employers with public contracts to verify the legal status of employees through a federal work authorization program and creates a civil right of action against any employer who terminates an employee, while retaining a person the employer knows or should know is not legally present in the U.S., Thompson said private employers emerge unscathed.

“Private employers are getting a free ride as long as they don’t do business with the state or municipalities,” she said.

Although the bill would allow South Carolina to enforce federal immigration laws on the state level, ascertain the immigration status of any person arrested and detained for committing a crime and prevent college admission or scholarship awards for illegal aliens, Thompson said the bill makes local illegal alien ordinances null and void.

Thompson feels the “watered down” bill can be attributed to big businesses that donate large sums of money to state legislators.

“This bill is a joke and we’re going to find out the ones who voted and the ones who are still with the good ol’ boy system that caters to big business,” Thompson said. “The only thing they’re focusing on is any business that does business with the public, be it a state or local contractor.

“If a contractor comes on and wants to do business with the city of Clemson, it would be a good idea if they don’t have illegals working for them. That’s a good thing, but you still have people working on houses and in restaurants — learning a trade, learning from the people who hire them and then going out, starting their own business and undercutting them.”

Thompson expressed disappointment in the response by the Pickens County Legislative Delegation, adding that State Sen. Larry Martin, of Pickens, and State Sen. Thomas Alexander, of Walhalla, the latter who represents a portion of Pickens County in addition to Oconee County, are the only ones who have been in communication with her.

“I have even heard from Rep. Jerry Smith, of Greenville,” Thompson said. “He doesn’t even represent me, but has taken the time to write back.”

The bill will now go to the state Senate for approval. But approval isn’t a guarantee, as House Speaker Bobby Harrell said that multiple immigration bills sent by the House to the Senate over the years have died.

The number of illegal immigrants in the state has increased 15 fold — from an estimated 5,000 in 1998 to 75,000 today. Legislators say illegal immigration is costing South Carolina taxpayers more than $186 million a year, a cost they expect will continue to grow substantially if nothing is done.

“This is the plan our state needs to combat illegal immigration,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison in a prepared statement. “Our citizens have told us loud and clear — this is the plan they are backing and want to see passed into law this year.”

THE NEXT COUNTY STEP

Members of Pickens County Council will have their say on the issue when meeting Monday.

Three council members, who make up the Justice and Public Safety Committee, will discuss immigration at 4:30 p.m. at the county administration facility on McDaniel Avenue in Pickens. The meeting is a follow-up to initial discussions made by committee members and the whole council.

Thompson, upset with how her own Clemson City Council responded to her concerns, went to County Council to see if government leaders can tackle immigration legislation on the county level. Council members referred the topic to Justice and Public Safety.

Since then, Pickens County Sheriff David Stone briefed committee members about discussions he’s had with county sheriffs in Oconee, Anderson and Greenville. Stone has said the law enforcement agencies hope to establish a multi-jurisdictional system using federally supplied technology to test citizenship of those suspected of committing a crime. Under the system, unauthorized residents who fail the tests would go to Atlanta, with federal authorities reimbursing the counties for travel expenses.

Tim Morgan, Pickens County assistant sheriff, said county officials processed 19 unauthorized residents upon criminal charges. After contacting immigration officials, the county submitted 11 of them for deportation. This year, county officials released all eight unauthorized residents processed in Pickens after filing local charges. Morgan said the county has conducted accurate records on booking such records since August.

“We’re being as aggressive as the law is allowing us to be,” he said. “It’s very difficult to work under these parameters.”

Morgan said Pickens, Anderson and Oconee offices are in the middle of an application process to become a regional unit in hopes of saving money, since he said every county in South Carolina expressed interest in the program. Having the program in place, Morgan said, would allow local agencies to conduct intermediate work themselves for a more efficient process.

Council Member David Crenshaw, whose district includes Central, Norris and Six Mile, said Thursday he agrees with what Stone and the other sheriffs are aiming for, though he thinks county authorities have their hands tied without more help from a higher branch of government.

“Our federal government needs to do more than what they’re doing,” he said. “They let this problem progress to where it’s at.”

The meeting precedes a general council meeting at 6 p.m.