One-way street could be Coming and going

Charleston is studying whether to make Coming Street a two-way road.

COLUMBIA -- Want to learn firsthand about South Carolina's attempts to force illegal immigrants out of the state, and what those on both sides of the issues have to say?

The League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area will host a forum at 6:30 tonight in Charleston to discuss the new illegal immigration enforcement law, which takes effect Jan. 1, pending court action to block it.

Group President Julie Hussey said the forum is the latest in a series from the nonpartisan organization on topics important to the Lowcountry. The forum at the YWCA of Greater Charleston is intended to generate a civil discussion and help the community better understand an issue.

"The ultimate goal is for us to remember that most often issues are not black or white," she said.

Scott Bischoff, a lawyer with Charleston-based Savage and Savage law firm, will provide a briefing on legal considerations and open the forum for discussion and questions. Men and women are invited.

The Legislature passed new enforcement standards, signed into law this year by Gov. Nikki Haley, that call on local law enforcement officers to check a person's immigration status if the officer suspects that the person is in the country illegally, and to alert federal authorities.

Other provisions in the law build on measures to stop the hiring of illegal immigrants.

Late last month the U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State asked the federal district court in Charleston to block the state's new law, calling it unconstitutional. Similar laws in other states, including Alabama and Arizona, also are being challenged. The court hasn't issued a decision.

Bischoff said he will provide insight on both sides of the issue and wants to clear up misconceptions, such as an idea that the state's jails are crowded with illegal immigrants.

Clark Newsom, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said Tuesday that 507 illegal immigrants are serving time in state prisons. That's about 2 percent of the nearly 23,000 inmates.

Jeff Moore, director of the state Sheriff's Association, said even if the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, he does not expect much to change, or at least not until the state Department of Public Safety starts to train officers on illegal immigration enforcement.

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, he said.

The Legislature set aside $1.3 million for the agency to develop a special enforcement unit. Sid Gaulden, the agency's spokesman, said Public Safety is in the process of hiring a supervisor for the unit.

The unit also will need a special partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for certain enforcement authority. The time frame for the partnership is not clear.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855 or follow her on Twitter at @yvonnewenger.