Charlotte – South Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature has approved a bill that would require police officers to check the immigration status of people they stop for another reason and force companies to ensure their employees are authorized to work in the United States.
SB 20, inspired by Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law, will now go to the desk of GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, who has said she plans to sign it.
The state's House of Representatives on Tuesday approved changes made last week by the Senate, which extended debate on the bill after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that states have the right to compel employers to use the federal E-Verify system to determine whether jobseekers can legally work in the country.
Firms that defy the law could have their business license temporarily suspended or even revoked.
"Today, South Carolina joined a growing number of states who are taking proactive steps to address the problems created by immigrants who not only come into our country illegally, but also violate our laws while here," House Speaker Bobby Harrell said after the vote.
But Ivan Segura, vice president of the Council for Mexicans in the Carolinas, told Efe that passage of the legislation marks "a sad day for South Carolina."
"This is a struggle for equality in our communities, and not only for immigrants. This is going back to the time when people were convicted for being different."
A coalition of 21 organizations on Tuesday urged Haley, whose family emigrated from India, to veto the bill on the grounds it will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and "encourage racial profiling."
SB 20 requires police to review the immigration status of any person arrested or stopped for another reason and makes it a felony to make and sell fake photo IDs for undocumented immigrants.
The bill also makes it a misdemeanor for any adult - whether a foreigner or U.S. citizen - not to carry a form of official identification such as a driver's license or immigration document while traveling within the state.
Opponents say South Carolina will have to invest close to $84 million to implement the measure, which also would create a new unit to enforce immigration laws.
Tammy Besherse, an attorney with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, told Efe Tuesday that several state immigrant-advocacy groups are considering taking legal action to halt SB 20.
A wide swath of South Carolina's economy, including the agriculture, construction, hotel, services and food sectors, depends in large part on immigrant labor, and farmers already have complained that - even with the bill still pending the governor's signature - they are having trouble finding workers.
"There's concern among growers about possible ramifications if Haley signs the bill because it would send the message that South Carolina is not a very immigrant-friendly place," Russell Ott, an expert on legislative issues at the South Carolina Farm Bureau, told Efe.
Data from the 2010 Census show that South Carolina's Hispanic community increased by 147.7 percent over the past decade to 235,893, representing 5.1 percent of the state's total population.
Yet, a study by the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that the number of undocumented immigrants in South Carolina fell 21.4 percent, from 70,000 to 55,000, since 2008.