The forum's speakers questioned whether the state's new illegal immigration law will leave farm products rotting in the field and raise grocery prices.
They asked if Hispanic-looking U.S. citizens will be detained by police and cause illegals afraid of deportation to not report when they are victims of crimes.
They wondered whether it will cost local and state governments tax revenue.
And they expressed fears that the part of the law that makes it illegal to transport or harbor illegals endangers mission volunteers.
"The law could mean we become felons for having someone at our dinner table, or giving them a ride," said the Rev. Rich Robinson, of Nuevos Caminos "Mission of Hope" on James Island.
Some 30 people, most of them opposed to the law, attended the League of Women Voters forum Wednesday night at the YWCA of Greater Charleston. The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires officers to check a person's immigration status if they suspect that the person is in the country illegally and to alert federal authorities.
One hour and 20 minutes into the event, a lone supporter of the law spoke. The Johns Island man maintains that illegals in the area have destroyed his ability to make a good living.
Randy Frazier said that many of the laborers he competes with for jobs are illegals who work for low wages paid in cash only. Frazier, who said he wanted to "present a blue-collar perspective," said he once earned $20 an hour but now must take the $12 hourly wage illegals receive.
"How can we compete with people being paid dirt-low wages?" Frazier asked. He said he was fired from a job recently for refusing to give illegals rides to job sites.
The new law was approved by the Legislature and signed in June by Gov. Nikki Haley. It is being challenged in court by the American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights organizations, labor groups and individuals.
The federal government also has sued the state, saying its provisions are unconstitutional and interfere with the nation's powers to set and enforce immigration policy.
Many provisions in the law are similar to those in illegal immigration laws passed this year in Arizona and Alabama. The courts have enjoined some of the provisions in those states' laws from being enforced, until the cases can be heard. But one provision shared by all three states' laws has not been prevented from taking effect, and requires employers to use the federal government's E-Verify database to validate that employees are here legally.
Attorney Scott Bischoff II of the Savage and Savage law firm conducted a presentation that included data displayed on a screen and video clips of speakers both for and against the new law, but mostly against it. Bischoff called the law too costly for the state, and said it's nebulous in its requirement that police check the legal status of persons for whom "reasonable doubt" exists. The law conflicts with federal immigration law that he said supersedes state law, and will subject people to racial profiling.
Bischoff said arguments that illegals commit a large percentage of the crimes in the state are not supported by data. Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, a supporter of the new law, was invited to speak at the forum, but declined "citing the pending lawsuit" challenging the law, the forum was informed.
Cannon, who with many state and local officials was named as a defendant in the ACLU suit, has said that enforcing the new law by checking a suspect's immigration status is not an added burden.
Jeff Moore, director of the state Sheriff's Association, said this week that deputies already check immigration status if a charge allows them to keep a suspect long enough for a researcher on a federal database to respond.
Marcella Rabens, director of Universal, a Spanish-language newspaper for coastal South Carolina, said a recent verbal attack on her by someone expressing hatred for immigrants could have been prompted by the new law. She said she's been in Charleston for 10 years and "it never happened before."