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S.C. Senate OKs bill to criminalize creation of fake immigration docs

From Gustavo Valdes, CNN
  • The state Senate passes a bill to boost the state's role in curbing illegal immigration
  • The bill would criminalize creating fake immigration documents
  • A special task force would be funded by a new tax
  • That tax would be levied on money wired abroad

(CNN) -- South Carolina state senators passed a bill Thursday that would make it a crime to create fake immigration documents, not to have one's immigration card or give a false identification.

By a 34-9 margin, the state Senate approved a third and final reading of the measure to send it to the Palmetto State's House of Representatives. All 26 Republicans in the chamber voted for it. The nine dissenting were all Democrats, though eight legislators from that party backed the measure.

"The state Senate took a bold step toward providing local law enforcement with the tools it needs to adequately respond to illegal immigration in South Carolina," said state Sen. Larry Martin, a Republican from Pickens.

But an opponent said that the Senate's passage of the legislation, while not surprising, was disappointing.

"Many legislators want to send the message that we don't want you in South Carolina if you are here legally -- and that's what they did with this bill," said Tammy Besherse, an attorney for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.

Like enacted legislation in Arizona and proposed measures in Georgia and Alabama, the South Carolina legislation focuses on bolstering the state's role in curtailing illegal immigration -- long deemed a federal law enforcement responsibility. In some ways, the Palmetto State proposal is not as stringent as those in other states.

Under the legislation, people convicted of making fake immigration documents could be imprisoned for as long as five years. The bill would also make it illegal not to have one's immigration card or to present false identification. But it would not be a crime -- in and of itself -- to be an illegal immigrant in the state of South Carolina.

In addition, the bill prohibits immigrants without proper approvals from working in the state.

The bill, as now constituted, calls for law enforcement officers to "follow certain procedures to verify (the) immigration status" if they have a "reasonable suspicion that a person stopped, detained or arrested ... is an alien unlawfully." This means local police could call federal immigration authorities, but it falls short of requiring them to arrest people due to their status.

The legislation would create a task force, made up of local and state law enforcement agents and trained by federal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. After some period, these specially trained non-federal agents could initiate immigration procedures, if they are already in police custody. This initiative would be funded by a new tax on money that individuals wire out of South Carolina to other countries, according to the legislation.

In an apparent attempt to address racial profiling concerns, the bill mandates that law enforcement must now fill out a form detailing the race of anyone they've stopped, arrested or ticketed. Martin singled out this provision, saying it reiterates that it "is clearly unlawful to stop or question someone about their identity unless there is an lawful reason to do so."

This is one of several provisions that distinguish the South Carolina bill from some of the more controversial aspects of laws in Arizona and elsewhere focusing on state's role in addressing illegal immigration.

In February, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said she had "no other choice" than to sue the federal government for what she called Washington's failure to secure her state's border and enforce immigration laws.

Arizona's move was an attempt to strike back at the Obama administration for a lawsuit blocking parts of a controversial law Brewer signed last April. It authorizes police to identify and help deport those suspected of being in the country illegally. The measure sparked protests in Arizona and around the country.

Last Thursday, Georgia's state assembly passed a tough immigration law that criminalizes the transportation of illegal immigrants and allows law enforcement officials to check the legal status of people in custody in certain situations. State Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat, said that bill would create second-class citizens.

The Georgia bill requires companies to use E-Verify -- a federal database -- to check immigration documentation of current and prospective employees. Martin said that South Carolina's legislation similarly "strengthens the state's employer E-Verify law that was enacted three years ago."

South Carolina's House of Representatives -- which consists of 76 Republicans and 47 Democrats -- will now consider the Senate-approved measure, an effort that could take weeks if not months. If the House joins the Senate and passes it, the measure would go to Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican.