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Loophole in South Carolina immigration law for some workers

Immigrant workers are required to prove status and work eligibility to conform with state and federal law, however, a loophole in the South Carolina immigration law exempts farmworkers, private maids and nannies from a mandatory state immigration status check.

A law which went into effect January 1st requires private employers in South Carolina to use the federal database to check the status of newly hired employees. The law does provide a loophole, exempting four categories of workers-agricultural laborers, domestic workers in a private residence, as well as ministers and fisherman on crews of 10 or fewer. The exemption was supported both by the agricultural industry as well as legislators who claim that a mandatory status check could result in a shortage of workers.

Blaming illegal immigrants for unemployment and crime, legislators drafted the bill in 2011 to discourage illegal immigrants from living and working in South Carolina. The loophole has created significant debate. Critics of the loophole include other businesses who claim that it gives an unfair advantage to a select group. Members of the agricultural industry assert that the seasonal work creates special circumstances.

Currently, the law requires businesses to use the federal E-Verify system to check the name and Social Security number of all non-exempt employees. The law is enforced by the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Those in violation could risk business closure.

This raises social and political questions for states with an interest in employing illegal immigrants to support their agricultural industry. Since there are not enough South Carolina locals to work the fields, migrant workers who are forced into a status check may leave the state.

Herald Online, "Farmworkers, nannies can sidestep S.C. immigration checks," Noelle Phillips, March 18, 2012.

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