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What the South Carolina immigration bill means for businesses

The legislative session in South Carolina ended yesterday with the Senate postponing the illegal immigration bill vote until lawmakers return for a special session on June 14. However, the governor has required lawmakers to return to the capital on Tuesday, so action could happen sooner.

While we have covered that the proposed bill would require law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they suspect could be illegal immigrants and some other details, we have not really explained what the proposed changes would mean for South Carolina businesses.

Lawmakers have proposed that all businesses should be required to use an E-Verify program to check the legal status of their workers, which is a federal database that matches people's names with their social security numbers.

Currently, under the 2008 South Carolina Immigration Reform Act, businesses have the choice to use the E-Verify program or they can ask to see a driver's license from South Carolina or one of 26 other approved states to verify legal status.

Additionally, the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation would still be allowed to suspend or revoke businesses licenses, tax licenses and any business documents filed at the Secretary of State's office for violations of the law. However, the labor department would not be able to fine businesses that violate the law, like it is currently able to do.

These changes were recommended by Senate lawyers after the Supreme Court came down with a ruling on a law in Arizona that is similar to South Carolina's Immigration Reform Act.

The Supreme Court's decision ruled that states could suspend the licenses of business owners who violate immigration laws, but did not give a clear answer as to whether states could legally impose criminal and civil penalties against them as well.

Because of this uncertainty, Senate lawyers recommended that the fining capabilities should be dropped from the law.

If you have questions about how your business could be affected by the proposed changes to the state's immigration laws, contact an experienced immigration attorney for advice.

Sources: The State, "S.C. immigration bill would require businesses to use E-verify program," Noelle Phillips, 6/2/2011. The State, "S.C. Senate postpones illegal immigration changes," 6/3/2011.

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