South Carolina lawmakers are debating a bill that requires all companies in the state to verify the legal status of their employees even as the state's farmers express their concern about the lack of manual labor to bring in their harvests.
The state Senate this week approved a new version of SB 20 that demands that firms use the federal E-Verify program to hire personnel or face the possibility of losing their licenses.
The bill also would authorize law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of people arrested or detained for any reason and would make producing and selling false documents for undocumented immigrants a felony.
In addition, it allows state residents to sue municipal governments that do not force the local police to verify the immigration status of suspects and creates an immigration-law compliance unit.
"SB 20 continues to transform itself into a law that aside from being unfair and unnecessary, now is increasing the costs for all involved agencies, organizations and businesses. E-Verify is a program plagued with mistakes," Ivan Segura, a member of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, told Efe on Thursday.
Different economic sectors like agriculture, construction, the hotel industry, services and food depend in large measure on immigrant labor.
"The law has not passed and already farmers are having difficulty finding workers for the tomato harvest. They are afraid that the time is coming where they will not have the necessary labor," Russell Ott, an expert on legislative issues at the South Carolina Farm Bureau, told Efe on Thursday.
"The greatest fear is the part of the law similar to that in Arizona, where the police authorities could detain people to verify their immigration situation. That is frightening even our legal workers," he said.
Among growers there exists "concern" about the ramifications that could result if Gov. Nikki Haley signs the law, since it would send the message that South Carolina is not a friendly place for immigrants, Ott said.
SB 20 is "a big deal to us because without immigration labor, we wouldn't be able to survive," Richard Floyd, a tobacco farmer in the eastern South Carolina community of Cool Spring, told the media.
He said consumers would also feel an impact if the bill passed.
"Prices would go up considerably because no one will do the work," according to Floyd.
Tammy Besherse, an attorney with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, who has followed the legislative debate on the bill very closely, told Efe that now the lower house has the final word.
"If [the representatives] agree with the changes of the senators, it goes directly to the governor's desk for her signature or, if not, it returns to a reconciliation committee. It's difficult to predict what could happen," she said.
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.
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 the implementation in 2008 of a tough state immigration law.