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Immigration Law Sees Results

South Carolina battles illegal immigration with The South Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act, the second phase of which starts this week. The law requires employers to verify every new worker's immigration status, and penalizes businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants. This resulted in citations for about 10 percent of the businesses audited, according to state records. The regulation went into effect last year for businesses with more than 100 employees, and goes into effect Thursday for all other companies.

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''The citations for the over-100 employee companies weren't significant, and all but one of the businesses quickly fixed the problem,'' said Jim Knight, from the state Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation and the administrator of the Office of Immigrant Worker Compliance.

Jack Culler, the director of Immigrant Community Access Point, an organization that helps immigrants, said that some immigrants have already left because they haven't been able to find work, and he expects others will leave too once the law applies to all companies this week. "Undoubtedly it's a loss for the state," he said, adding that immigrants provide a labor force for jobs many locals don't want to do. "It's going to be hard for employers to replace some of the labor that is being supplied now by the immigrants."

''Other programs have been a burden, especially for small businesses, but once employers understand the requirements there haven't been many complaints,'' said Brad Dean, the president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. "The new measures have been met with minimal resistance from employers," he said. "It is a first but important step to stopping illegal immigration."

"There has been and continues to be a problem in illegal immigration. A key step to solving that problem is controlling illegal immigration through quick easy regulation of employment status," he declared.

Though officials say the new rules are helping, there aren't statistics showing how many immigrants - legal or not - are along the Grand Strand, and whether the regulations are working.

Some business owners aren't sure that the regulations will actually help the immigration problem. "I myself think it's more just for show," said Mike Callahan, an owner of the Lazy Gator stores along the Grand Strand. "I think it's more of a pacifier for people to say, 'hey we're doing something.'"

How the regulations work and enforcement

In the first year under the new rules, there has been nearly full compliance with the regulations, but as the pool of businesses grows Thursday, there will likely be more violators, Knight said.

The law applies to new hires only, but if an employer finds out at any time that an employee is not legally allowed to work in this country, the employer must investigate and fire the employee if he or she is working illegally.

There was a 92 percent compliance rate among businesses in the first year, which Knight said was not surprising because most large employers have more resources to comply with labor laws.

"A lot of times smaller employers don't have the same resources and as a result we don't anticipate that high of a compliance rate when we start looking at smaller employers," he said.

Businesses that don't meet the verification requirements can face fines of up to $1,000 per employee and if a business is found to knowingly employ illegal workers, it can lose the ability to operate in the state.
Eleven businesses in Horry and Georgetown counties were cited, including stores, hotels and a restaurant. (The Sun News was among those cited.) Fees for the citations ranged from $850 to $42,500, though most fees were waived when businesses fixed the problem. All of the businesses now verify the status of employees, according to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Some workers might be willing to consider those jobs given the economic downturn, but some businesses that lost most of their labor force when the law went into effect have had a hard time finding new employees to fill the spots, Culler said.

"It certainly has not died down in the public's eye," Edge said.

In January, when the state legislature is back in session, Edge expects that the regulation and implementation will be reviewed and changes may be made.

Cleary said that the law has given employers time to get ready and make changes and is easy to comply with using e-verify, which is accurate.

"I think to be honest it may be the most effective law in the nation," he said. "The federal government has the obligation to create a right way to do it. We can't do that at the state level, but we can make sure employers don't take advantage by doing it the right way."

He said that maybe this law will help force the federal government to better enforce existing laws, create new ones and improve the immigration situation.

Cleary said that most of the illegal immigrants are probably very hardworking people and if the opportunity to work here doesn't exist the immigrants will likely leave.

He said the Arizona immigration law has created a lot of controversy and hard feelings and that South Carolina's approach can be effective and less antagonistic.

"It's a whole [lot] less controversial than what the Arizona law said," he said. "I'm glad that we have an opportunity to see how this law works before we move forward with anything else."

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September 18, 2019, 5:29 am PDT

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