Though South Carolina's new immigration law does not demand that schools review the legal status of their students, the legislation has generated uncertainty among students and their parents.
"One of the direct effects of the law on the students would be the provision that has to do with the transport of undocumented people," Ivan Segura, vice president of the Council for Mexicans in the Carolinas, told Efe on Tuesday.
One of the direct effects of the law on the students would be the provision that has to do with the transport of undocumented people.
- Ivan Segura, vice president of the Council for Mexicans in the Carolinas
"Mothers and fathers would run the risk of being arrested by the authorities while they were taking their children to the schools," the community leader said.
Signed into law in June by Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, the daughter of immigrants from India, SB 20 authorizes local law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of a person they suspect may be in the country illegally.
It also punishes people who do not carry state-issued identification like a driver's license or immigration document, as well as those who transport undocumented immigrants.
In addition, it creates the country's first state-level immigration police, a 12-member unit, to enforce local and federal immigration laws.
The new unit will have a $1.3 million budget allocated by the General Assembly for operating expenses such as vehicles, uniforms and running county offices.
"Without entering into force, (the law) is already having a devastating effect on the community by creating an environment of fear and uncertainty among migrant families," Segura emphasized.
The law is set to take effect Jan. 1, but the U.S. Justice Department is seeking an injunction to halt enforcement until the courts rule on multiple lawsuits challenging the legislation as unconstitutional.
According to Jesus Delgado, a young Mexican who arrived in the United States as a months-old infant and has lived since 2006 near Greenville, "there is fear and disappointment" among immigrant high school students.
Delgado graduated from high school in 2008 and has not been able to continue his studies at the college level due to his lack of valid immigration documents and money to pay for college tuition.
"Many are even thinking about returning with their families to their countries of origin, places that - like me - (they) don't know. They've closed all the doors for continuing to educate ourselves on us young people in this state," he added.
In 2008, then-Gov. Mark Sanford signed a state law imposing fines on South Carolina companies that hired workers lacking the proper immigration papers.
That legislation also made the Palmetto State the first in the nation to completely deny access to public universities and community colleges to students who could not prove their legal status.
In the central town of Saluda, Latino teachers say they have heard complaints about their Anglo colleagues' making racist remarks about immigrants.
"They tell (the teachers) that with SB 20 all the 'illegals' would have to leave," Mayra Garcia, who teaches English as a Second Language in a primary school in Saluda, told Efe.
Latinos represent 5.1 percent of the population of South Carolina, or 235,893 people. Fewer than a quarter of those Latino residents are undocumented, according to data from the Pew Hispanic Center.