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SUMMERVILLE -- Town Council passed an illegal immigrants hiring law Wednesday, after two months of debate and controversy.

The ordinance requires employers to verify the citizenship or immigration status of workers. Penalties include fines and the loss of a business license. The state and Dorchester County have similar laws.

No business has been penalized by losing its license so far under the three-year-old county law.

The vote was 5-1, with Councilman Aaron Brown opposed.

Only one resident in the audience spoke on the issue. Kendra Linkowski said she was alarmed by the threat of drugs, violence and the disruption of the job economy by an "invasion" of Mexicans.

"Exempting independent contractors (from the verification process) would make Summerville a sanctuary community" for illegal immigrants, she said.

But council members said the law mirrors state law and does not exempt contractors.

Council members have been divided on whether the law is needed or is the town's job. Immigration is the province of federal law. Some council members say the town needs to take a stand that federal authorities won't.

Brown, who represents the historically black Brownsville community, said the law was almost a civil rights issue, singling out another group of people for discrimination. A town law is not needed, would discourage businesses and disrupt neighborhoods, he said.

"I think we should leave this to the federal government," he said.

Denying illegal immigrants jobs or housing, and penalizing people who provide them, has become a hot political issue nationwide, creating a rift between voters more concerned about homeland security or human rights.

The issue gained momentum after immigration reform failed in Congress, and a recent Arizona law was put on hold. That law would have required police to check the status of everyone they stop.

The Summerville ordinance originally had a requirement for landlords to verify status, too. But that was tabled in September because of lawsuit concerns.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.