Illegal immigration reform receives key approval in House

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By Johnathan Ryan

State Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-District 45, believes the Legislature will approve a bill clamping down on illegal immigration this year.

The bill received key approval Wednesday in the House.

The proposal would require businesses to check the status of their employees through a federal verification program or only hire people with a valid driver's license. It would also prohibit illegal immigrants from attending public colleges in South Carolina and create a felony for hiding or transporting illegal workers. Exemptions are given to shelters for the homeless and domestic violence victims.

After another mostly routine reading in the House, the bill heads to the Senate, which passed a similar proposal last year.

The state Chamber of Commerce supports the bill, because it bans local governments from passing their own more strict immigration laws, preventing a hodgepodge of rules across the state, spokesman Otis Rawl said.

The lengthy proposal also forbids illegal immigrants from getting state scholarships to attend private colleges, forbids illegal adults from receiving public assistance and makes it a crime for illegal workers to give false documents.

It also directs the State Law Enforcement Division chief to negotiate with the federal government for ways the state can enforce federal immigration laws.

Increasingly frustrated by inaction from Congress, nearly every state has passed some sort of illegal immigration law on a wide range of topics. More than 300 bills have been introduced so far this year, said Ann Morse, program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures Immigrant Policy Project.

Last year, 46 states enacted 246 laws on illegal immigration, more than triple the number from 2006. Thats of the more than 1,560 bills proposed nationwide. The only four states not passing such laws in 2007 were Alaska, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wisconsin, according to the conference.

Mulvaney believes it's important that the state take measures to discourage illegal immigration.

"There is an incentive to come here illegally and part of that is to get public benefits," he said. "We want to take that incentive away."

Though he supports the Senate bill, state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-District 16, isn't optimistic that state legislation will do much to stem illegal immigration.

"I don't think it will really do anything to stop illegal immigrants from coming here," Gregory said.

Both Gregory and Mulvaney said it's unfortunate that states have to shoulder the burden of reforming a national problem. Gregory said the real solution would start with the federal government preventing the flow of illegal immigrants.

"It's really a containment and enforcement issue," he said. "We (the state) can work within the margins of the issue but it's largely a federal issue."

Gov. Mark Sanford also wants immigration reform, mentioning it earlier this week as he made stops across South Carolina to push his agenda.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Contact Johnathan Ryan at 416-8416 or jryan@thelancasternews.com