COLUMBIA -- Conservative activists will pressure lawmakers today to crack down on illegal immigrants living in South Carolina by showing up in force before a legislative hearing.
Barbara Pulicicchio of Mount Pleasant and Linda Rouvet of North Charleston, among other local activists, have rounded up supporters to travel to the Statehouse to demand that legislators act on illegal immigration reform this year.
The House Judiciary Constitutional Laws Subcommittee will decide whether to advance a bill that centers on a requirement for law enforcement officers to check a person's legal status during a traffic stop or arrest, if they suspect that the person is in the country illegally.
The officers would alert federal authorities about their suspicions, but local law enforcement could not hold that person due to constitutional concerns.
Diana Salazar, president of the Latino Association of Charleston, is concerned that the bill encourages racial profiling and is not necessary, especially considering that the number of illegal immigrants living in South Carolina reportedly has dropped by 21.4 percent, or from roughly 70,000 individuals to 55,000, since 2007, when the economy took a nose dive.
The bill passed the Senate by a 34-9 vote in March and has a chance to make it to Gov. Nikki Haley's desk before the Legislature adjourns for the summer. It builds on a 2008 law that is aimed at stopping employers from using illegal labor.
It is unclear if the governor supports the bill. Haley refused to take questions from The Post and Courier on Wednesday, and her office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the illegal immigration bill.
Rep. Jim Harrison, a Columbia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he expects the bill to pass the subcommittee and be up for debate next week before the full committee.
"Until the federal government does what it should do and takes action, I think that the states have got to protect their interest," Harrison said.
Pulicicchio doesn't want to take any chances. She is a former police officer turned self-employed businesswoman, and thinks the Legislature's job is to make sure the rule of law is in effect in South Carolina.
She said illegal immigrants are breaking the law and costing the state tens of millions of dollars a year. Reform advocates often cite a 2006 study indicating that illegal immigrants cost the state $186 million per year in expenses such as public schools and medical care.
"We just feel that first, the U.S. government is not doing their job," Pulicicchio said. Second, she said, state lawmakers are not doing their job.
"The Constitution states that they are to protect us, and they are not," Pulicicchio said.
Like Pulicicchio, Rouvet said illegal immigration is a matter of public safety. Rouvet's 21-year-old son Rand was killed in a hit-and-run accident in 2008 by an illegal immigrant without a driver's license.
"We want the laws enforced and upheld in South Carolina," Rouvet said.
She plans to present House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, with a petition signed online and in person by some 1,200 people to urge the bill's passage.
Greg Foster, Harrell's spokesman, said the speaker supports the illegal immigration reform bill. In fact, he said, the entire House Republican Caucus is behind the effort. Harrell expects the bill to make it to the governor's desk, and ideally this year, Foster said.
Salazar, a third-generation Mexican American, said she is saddened and disappointed in lawmakers. Their goal, she said, is to intimidate Latinos into leaving South Carolina.
"They will try to implement the law this year: It's called racial profiling," Salazar said. "They are going to use their badges to take advantage of skin color, hair color or the car their driving. They will take advantage of the badge."
Salazar said the courts will intervene.
"I do know for sure they will have lawsuits," she said. "There are a lot of attorneys who are ready."
Senate Minority Leader John Land, D-Manning, said he had a long list of reasons why he opposes the state's efforts to take on illegal immigration, chiefly the imposition it puts on businesses to meet state requirements.
"The federal government is having a hell of a time trying to enforce it and here is little South Carolina, where we're behind in education. We're behind in law enforcement. We're behind in health care," Land said. "It is absolutely absurd."