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Illegal immigration law impeded, governor says

May 27, 2011
| The Post and Courier by Yvonne Wenger

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley said Friday that South Carolina’s two dozen illegal immigration enforcement agents were blocked by the Obama administration from enforcing the state’s law banning business from hiring undocumented workers.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, part of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, told the state it could not use E-Verify documentation to enforce South Carolina’s immigration law. But Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a similar law in Arizona upheld a state’s right to rely on the online system that uses Social Security numbers to screen new workers to see if they are legally in the country.

Haley said Obama is getting in her way of governing the state and protecting the people and businesses that call South Carolina home.

“South Carolina has had to fight this administration on multiple issues,” she said. “We are fighting them on health care. We are fighting them on being able to create jobs. It is absolutely ludicrous that we are now fighting the fact that we can’t even enforce our own illegal immigration laws.”

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is reviewing the state’s request in light of the recent Supreme Court decision.

Meanwhile, an official with the federal agency said Homeland Security officials reached out to the governor’s office on multiple occasions but did not receive a response.

South Carolina passed an illegal immigration law in 2008 that allows the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation to fine and shut down businesses that hire illegal immigrants. South Carolina employers can use E-Verify, a South Carolina driver’s license, an ID card or the documents needed to obtain one to confirm a person is lawfully in the state. Licenses from other states with the same eligibility requirements also are acceptable.

More than 200,000 businesses use E-Verify, and it is considered the most reliable source in South Carolina, where about half of the driver’s licenses from other states don’t pass muster. The U.S. Supreme Court found E-Verify to be the best and most efficient way for employers to verify an individual’s work eligibility.

Haley said she needs an answer from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, because to continue enforcing the 2008 law without clarity puts the businesses at risk of a lawsuit. When they enroll to use the database, businesses sign an agreement with Homeland Security that says they won’t share the information.

Haley said she would continue to be a “thorn” in Obama’s side and call Napolitano daily until she gives the state an answer. Haley and her administration have been seeking an answer from Homeland Security since February. At this point, Haley said Napolitano has “refused” to discuss the issue with her. Most recently, Haley sent Napolitano a letter Friday.

As part of the state’s anti-illegal immigration enforcement efforts, the Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department has audited more than 6,000 businesses and identified 2,206 violations.

The agency’s director, Catherine Templeton, a former Charleston labor attorney, said the state is not accessing any sensitive information from the E-Verify checks. The employers provide enforcement agents with a summary sheet. She put a halt to new investigations in late April after a series of back-and-forth communications with Homeland Security officials. That put the state’s illegal immigration enforcement agents at a standstill, Templeton said.

“I cannot and will not send them out and have employers violate the law or have them do something unconstitutional,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Legislature is putting the final touches on another bill that would require state and local law enforcement to check a person’s immigration status during arrests and routine traffic stops if an officer suspects that person is in the country illegally. Haley is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.

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