An anti-illegal immigration bill advanced in South Carolina, while similar measures have been put off for a year in Oklahoma and Tennessee.
South Carolina's House Judiciary Committee voted 15-7 on Tuesday to advance a bill that would require law enforcement to check the status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally during an encounter with them in the normal course of their work.
Republicans, who control the House, have called the bill a priority for this legislative session, which ends in two weeks. Approval by the full House would send the bill to a conference committee to work out differences with senators over their version passed earlier this year.
Democratic opponents of the bill argued that it would lead to ethnic and racial profiling. One Democrat said foreign college students and others visiting legally would be targeted too.
Rep. Wendy Nanney, Republican, said they should expect to carry around their paperwork, noting she just returned from a trip overseas.
"When I travel in foreign countries, I don't go anywhere without my passport," she said.
Supporters of the bill said the cost of providing education, emergency room health care and other services to undocumented immigrants far outweighs the cost of the bill. They said they hope it prompts undocumented workers to flee.
But bills in Oklahoma and Tennessee seeking to crack down on illegal immigration ran into roadblocks, prompting sponsors to table them until next year.
The Oklahoma bill focused on human smuggling, which some in the GOP, which control the state House and Senate felt was too limited. Some GOP critics of the bill wanted it to include penalties for non-smugglers as well – for instance, other people who harbor or transport undocumented immigrants. Democrats complained that illegal immigration is a matter for the federal government – not state entities – to address.
In Tennessee, people who opposed an anti-illegal immigration measure in the House Budget subcommittee warned that it might be unconstitutional. The measure called for law enforcement agents to check the immigration status of people they stopped if they suspected those were here illegally.
Opponents argued that the measure would worsen racial profiling and that it flies in the face of American freedoms.