COLUMBIA -- An attempt to bring a harder-edge stance on illegal immigration to South Carolina will have to wait until next year.
The bill by Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, was vetted Thursday in a Senate subcommittee, but the legislators have just about run out of time in the current session that is scheduled to end June 3.
Grooms, along with Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, have said they will work to build support for the bill and work out concerns during the summer and fall so it can come up for a vote when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
The legislation will be a tough sell in some circles.
Bill Bunch, a capital city businessman, said the legislators who support the bill are looking to use disenfranchised immigrants as "political pawns." He also said South Carolinians would be embarrassed if the state Legislature passes a new illegal immigration enforcement modeled after the controversial measure in Arizona.
"The state of Arizona is the laughing stock of the world," Bunch said. "I would ask you to consider the motivation."
The bill, filed earlier this month, would allow law enforcement officers to check the legal status of people the officers stop on the suspicion of a crime. The bill says race, color or national origin can't be the basis for an officer's decision to check immigration status.
Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican candidate for governor, said the courts would likely find the bill, if it becomes law, to be constitutional. McMaster provided a nonbinding opinion at the Senate's request.
The legislation does not attempt to regulate immigration but defers to federal law and authorizes state and local officials to enforce existing immigration laws, according to the opinion.
Margaret Thompson, former Clemson City councilwoman, said the bill is not about discrimination or racism. It is about enforcing the law.
"I guess what I hate about all this is how it is dividing people who are different colors," she told senators at the hearing. "It just doesn't have to be that way. Everybody just has to follow the law."
The hearing drew about 30 people, who maintained decorum as both bill opponents and supporters testified. After the last hearing on the matter about a week ago, a heated exchange took place between Grooms and immigration advocates.