COLUMBIA — Supporters of the new immigration reform plan say illegal immigrants will start fleeing South Carolina as soon as the governor signs it into law. Others are worried about the consequences.
The state's long-awaited plan is headed to Gov. Mark Sanford after the House voted 94-16 Thursday to agree with the Senate-approved version.
"Working together, we've put forth a bill that will make a difference when it comes to illegal immigration in South Carolina, and I look forward to signing it when it reaches my desk," Sanford said in a statement.
Immigration reform, and specifically how the state would ensure businesses weren't hiring illegal labor, has divided the Legislature in ways reminiscent of the battles to bring down the Confederate battle flag and ban video poker.
"This is a historic day," said Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, one of the lead negotiators on the issue. "What we have done is everything we can possibly do."
Rep. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, is worried the state has gone too far.
Whipper and Democratic Reps. Floyd Breeland of Charleston and David Mack of North Charleston were the only local House members to vote against the bill.
"The trail of probable cause sways toward racial profiling," said Whipper, whose district includes a large population of immigrants.
Whipper said he is worried that legal Hispanic immigrants, specifically, will face hardships as a result of the legislation.
He also says he does not think legal immigrants were involved enough in the process to have had their voices heard and that they might be unaware of what's coming down the pike.
In supporting the bill, Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Isle of Palms, said the legislation is a good example of how the process of making laws is supposed to work.
The issue was studied by the Legislature for more than two years and was publicly vetted in hearings and via media outlets.
What's more, Campsen said, the legislative leaders and the governor were heavily involved in reaching a compromise, which included finding a way to bring the many initial dissenters on board.
"Too much political bickering was going on," Campsen said. "It was time to quit making political points and make a difference."
The bill must be ratified — a routine procedure — before Sanford can sign it.
Campsen said the governor's immediate willingness to sign the bill comes, in part, because of the chance Sanford was given by the Legislature to help shape the final compromise.
"We heard loud and clear what the citizens of our state wanted," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
AT A GLANCE
Here's a look at the details in the state Legislature's illegal immigration reform legislation:
-- Authorizes the State Law Enforcement Division to reach a deal with federal agencies for the enforcement of immigration laws.
-- Requires people to prove their lawful presence in the U.S. to receive public benefits, although some exceptions apply, such as for emergency medical treatment.
-- Adds additional penalties for ID fraud in connection to an illegal immigrant.
-- Requires all businesses to check the legal status of workers by using a state driver's license, a license from another state that has the same eligibility requirements or E-Verify (a free, online database that lets employers check Social Security numbers).
-- Mandates fines for employers between $100 and $1,000 for every time they fail to verify the legal status of a worker, charge employers who knowingly hire an illegal immigrant with a felony and suspend right of businesses to operate when they get caught with illegal workers.
-- Allows fired citizens to sue their former bosses if they're replaced by illegal workers.
-- Prohibits illegal immigrants from attending state universities or receiving state-funded college scholarships.
-- Outlaws "sanctuary cities."
-- Requires judges to check immigration status when setting bail.
-- Expands the state grand jury's jurisdiction to include immigration fraud.
-- Creates an illegal immigration hot line through the state Commission for Minority Affairs.
-- Creates a felony for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants.