In quiet South Carolina town, another skirmish in immigration battle as councilman seeks ban

By Bruce Smith, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

Immigration skirmish brews in quiet SC town

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. — In a quiet Southern bedroom community of gardens and parks across the country from Arizona, another skirmish in the battle over illegal immigration is brewing.

Summerville Councilman Walter Bailey, worried there is a void in immigration laws, has proposed an ordinance that goes farther than state law, which was sharpened two years ago to allow police to identify illegal immigrants for deportation.

The proposal would prevent illegal immigrants from living in the town of 45,000, which calls itself “Flower Town in the Pines,” and in most cases prevent them from working here.

Bailey, a former state prosecutor, says it was prompted in part by the Obama administration’s challenge of the new Arizona law that was to have taken effect this week.

“It was outrageous that when, by default, the state of Arizona has to go in there and do the job the federal government ought to be doing — instead of showing appreciation and support in Arizona, the federal government sues,” Bailey said.

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked key aspects of the Arizona law but Bailey said his ordinance is different enough that he doesn’t think the judge’s ruling applies.

Bailey’s proposal not only requires most employers to check the immigration status of workers but those who rent homes or apartments in town would have to prove they are citizens or in the country legally.

“The federal government and to a lesser extent the state government is not doing a whole lot about the immigration problem,” he said.

He expects some council opposition but says most of the people he has spoken to favor the ordinance.

Two years ago, the state passed a tough immigration law allowing State Law Enforcement Division officers to train with federal agencies in immigration enforcement.

Since 2006, almost 116,000 people have been sent out of the U.S. by officers in 64 law enforcement agencies nationwide deputized to help enforce immigration laws under the federal-local partnership, called the 287(g) program.

But SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd says the agency’s state budget has been cut since the South Carolina law passed and told lawmakers this year while illegals are arrested for serious crimes, the agency doesn’t have the resources to enforce workplace immigration checks.

Bailey’s ordinance is based on a recent Fremont, Neb., ordinance already under court challenge.

He is concerned about a challenge to the Summerville law if it passes but “I don’t think the threat of expensive litigation ought to keep us from doing the right thing. Sometimes you have to figure out what is right and stand up for it and take your lumps.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers in 44 states passed 191 state laws and adopted 128 resolutions on immigration in the first six months of this year. Five were vetoed.

There are numerous local immigration ordinances across the country, too many to track, said Vivek Malhotra, the national advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

He said federal and state courts in four states have blocked housing and employment bans such as that in Fremont and the one proposed in Summerville.

Immigration is a federal, not local, issue, said Rev. Harry Villacis, Hispanic outreach minister at Summerville’s Faith Assembly of God.

He says concern about new immigration laws, both the local and state ones and the drumbeat of others around the country, has prompted many Hispanics to leave in recent months. Only 35 parishioners now attend the weekly Spanish services at the church, about half as many as in January, he said.

“They are very afraid,” he added. “They are going to Texas or New Mexico or Washington state where they can receive a drivers license. At least they can have an ID where they can drive to work without any difficulty.”

Poor and uneducated illegals “come for the American dream,” said Villacis, 48, who emigrated from Ecuador four years ago.

“The other side is we need to respect the law. My thought is they don’t really know what breaking the law means,” he added.

Mabel Aguayo, 33, who operates a Mexican restaurant with her husband, said business is off 40 percent in recent months. She said that a new ordinance will just make it harder for illegals who are victims of crime.

“They may have people rob them but will stay quiet because they are afraid of reporting it to the police,” said Aguayo, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Mexico. “The police are supposed to protect you, not be against you looking for illegals.”

Dennis Ashley, 65, a local architect, said immigration is important but there are more important things to be concerned about.

“If I could get better gas mileage with my car and the Gulf would clean up, if we solve immigration issues, then maybe that should rise to the top,” he said.

“My people came to this country illegally,” added Ashley who traces his ancestry to the pilgrims on the Mayflower.

“This country always seems to need someone to pick on — the blacks, the homosexuals, the Mexicans or the Latin Americans,” he said. “Why don’t we look at our issues and look at our strengths?”

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