More than 1 percent of those living in South Carolina are here illegally, according to a new Pew Charitable Trust report that also urges states to plan for how they will handle this population if immigration reform passes.
Foreign-born residents as a percent of the overall population
Year U.S. S.C.
1980 6.2 1.5
1990 7.9 1.4
2000 11.1 2.9
2010 12.9 4.6
Undocumented (illegal) residents as a percent of the overall population
Year U.S. S.C.
1980 0.91 0.13
1990 1.42 0.14
2000 2.98 1.12
2010 3.62 1.19
Source: The Pew Charitable Trust's report, "Immigration and Legalization: Roles and Responsibilities of States and Localities"
Meanwhile, several ministers from South Carolina visited Washington this week to try to encourage exactly that.
Among them was Ed Vernoy, a pastor with Community Bible Church in Beaufort. Vernoy is a Lowcountry native who served as a missionary in Venezuela and whose small church has a congregation where about four of every five members are here illegally.
"We have people in our church who literally live in fear," he said. "Police to them are people to avoid, not people to trust, and there's no pathway for them to get anything changed."
Vernoy joined Floyd Baker of Summerville's Global Mission International; Roger Mairena, a senior pastor with Monte Calvario in Moncks Corner; and more than 200 other pastors across the country in Washington Tuesday to discuss the issue with their representatives. The South Carolina contingent met with U.S. Reps. Mick Mulvaney, Trey Gowdy and Mark Sanford.
South Carolina doesn't have nearly as many illegal residents as other states such as California, Florida and New York, but it has seen a rapid increase, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts' report, "Immigration and Legalization: Roles and Responsibilities of States and Localities."
Michele Waslin, who manages the trust's work on immigration in states, said some see immigration as only a federal issue, but states and cities likely will have a role to play if Congress provides undocumented workers a path to legal status. The role could include some mix of public awareness, documentation, education, and protecting immigrants from fraud.
While Pew has no position on whether Congress should pass immigration reform, it believes state and local governments can be prepared - and their role should be considered as Congress considers immigration reform, the report said.
"All states really need to be thinking about this," Waslin said. "South Carolina is a good example. In 1990, 0.1 percent of the state's population was unauthorized, and as of 2010 that had increased to 1.2 percent. It's still a small percentage of the state's population, but you've seen a lot of growth."
And while California, New York and Florida have the most immigrants, North Carolina and Georgia ranked No. 7 and 8, respectively, as far as recent applicants seeking protection from deportation because they were brought into the country as children, the report said.
Both North Carolina and Georgia - but not South Carolina -are also considered "new immigrant states" because they have witnessed some of the largest increases in illegal immigrants as a share of total state population.
The federal government has sponsored programs to legalize unauthorized immigrants at least since the 1920s, but state and local officials have talked little publicly about South Carolina's role in any future program.
Waslin said South Carolina might want to begin thinking about its role in the next one, though the details won't be clear until Congress acts.
And it's unclear when that may be, though Vernoy said he and other pastors left Washington this week with a sense of optimism.
He said his Beaufort congregation includes some who arrived in the United States legally but overstayed their visas and others who crossed the border illegally in search of a better life. Most of them have jobs, send money back to their former homes and have hopes of gaining citizenship one day - as well as a chance to reunite with other family members here.
"They also wrestle with the notion, 'I'm pleasing God on one hand by going to church, but on the other hand, I'm being disobedient to government and I don't want to be,'" he said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.