South Carolina joins Arizona, Georgia by passing stringent immigration enforcement law

June 22, 2011 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

On Tuesday the South Carolina legislature sent a new immigration enforcement bill to the desk of Gov. Nikki Haley, who has said that she will sign it. The law would mandate that police check the immigration status of anyone detained for traffic violations or any greater offense. It would also require that businesses check the immigration status of their employees using the federal E-Verify program, as well as penalizing businesses that have knowingly employed undocumented workers for over a year by revoking their business licenses.

If the governor signs the bill, South Carolina would join Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Utah in passing laws that dramatically increase the powers of state and local authorities to enforce immigration policy. These are also states that are or will soon be facing legal challenges from civil rights groups over the new laws.

South Carolina Sen. Bradley Hutto (D) told the American Independent that despite attempts by his Republican colleagues to make the bill immune to the legal challenges faced by other states, the bill is “still problematic in many regards,” adding that he’s spoken with the U.S. Justice Department about the law’s constitutionality. He said the bill’s proponents weren’t concerned about the potential legal challenges and were “doing it for political posturing” to satisfy the Tea Party.

South Carolina’s bill has none of the recent Alabama immigration law’s provisions related to renting, schools and contracts. But before Arizona’s SB 1070 was passed last year, South Carolina had some of the strongest immigration enforcement legislation on the books, including a requirement that employers verify immigration status through either driver’s licenses or through E-Verify. Critics of the new law told the Wall Street Journal that the added provision requiring businesses to use E-Verify was voted on at the last minute and received no public hearing.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that South Carolina had the fastest growing Hispanic population of any state in the nation from 2000 to 2010, although the proportion of the total population that is Hispanic is still below the national average.

Laws that require police to check citizens’ immigration status based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they may be undocumented have been criticized by civil rights groups as inviting discrimination against Hispanics. Arizona’s law has been put on hold pending a decision by the federal courts; Georgia’s might join it depending on a federal judge’s decision later this week.