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South Carolina among states tightening illegal immigrant laws

A recent article in the New York Times discussed how several state legislatures in the South are in the process of adopting harsher laws against illegal immigrants. South Carolina is one of the states discussed in the article, along with Alabama and Georgia.

The article explains that while there was buzz of immigration-related bills in dozens of southern states early on in the legislative session, South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia have carried them the furthest. All three states have proposed to give police more extensive power to find and report illegal immigrants.

Reportedly, people both for and against the laws point to the conservative make-up of the states' legislatures and the recent trend of more Latinos moving to the South as prompting the legislation.

A spokesperson for the Immigration Policy Center, a national research organization and part of the American Immigration Council, said that the South has turned into a "gateway" for immigrants. She said that this change in the culture has prompted some people to become "a little bit freaked out."

In fact, the Hispanic population has increased by quite a bit in the southern states. The Times reported that, according to new census numbers, the Hispanic population grew by 111 percent in North Carolina and by 144 percent in Alabama since 2000. However, over all, the Hispanic populations in the states are still small. Only about 5 percent of the total population in South Carolina is Hispanic, for example.

The Times reported that the advancing laws would be similar to what was controversially enacted in Arizona. Ultimately, police officers would be able to question people suspected of committing crimes of their immigration status - even for crimes as minor as traffic violations.

The laws also would require some employers to use E-Verify, an employee eligibility database, and would permit citizens to sue local agencies if they believe that the law is not being properly enforced.

The lawmakers proposing the aggressive bills have said that the bills are not meant to be anti-immigration.

Though, South Carolina State Senator Lawrence K. Grooms admitted that the bill is meant to make the state "a very hostile place for those who are in this country illegally." He continued, "[o]ur hope is that they leave the country or go to a state where they are more welcome."

Resource: The New York Times, "Southern Lawmakers Focus on Illegal Immigrants," Kim Severson, 3/25/2011.

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