NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — House Republican leaders unveiled an immigration reform plan Monday that would bill the federal government for the cost of detaining illegal immigrants and prevent illegals from attending any public college.
“I’ve heard a loud message from South Carolinians all over the state and they are overwhelmingly saying we need to do something,” said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who estimated 75,000 illegal immigrants in the state.
However, the number of illegal immigrants is difficult to determine.
The latest Census estimate puts South Carolina’s Hispanic and Latino population at roughly 130,000. Advocates say it’s probably more than three times that number.
Changes to the state’s immigration laws have failed to pass the Legislature in recent years.
“We believe the time is now – that the public has made it very clear they want this dealt with,” said Harrell, R-Charleston.
Under the plan, the state would seek an agreement with the federal government to enforce immigration laws and be reimbursed for training officers and detaining illegals. The proposal would also restrict state money for communities declaring themselves sanctuary cities, which aid illegal immigrants without reporting them to the authorities.
There are currently no sanctuary cities in South Carolina.
“The bill makes it clear you can’t as a city or a county supersede this state law,” Harrell said. “I was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee for a number of years. It’s amazing what the state budget and dealing with revenue can cause people to think about.”
The plan also makes illegal immigrants ineligible for most public benefits, except for disaster relief, domestic violence services and emergency medical care.
They also would not be allowed to attend or get scholarships from any public college.
It’s unlikely illegal immigrants are receiving scholarships, though, because proof of residency and other documentation is required, said Julie Carullo, a state Commission on Higher Education spokeswoman.
Some of the state’s 16 technical schools do allow undocumented immigrants to enroll, although they must pay out-of-state tuition, said Cheryl Cox, the vice president of academic affairs for the state Technical College System.
She did not know how many colleges allow it. Each policy is set by the school.
“Most of us in the House have no problem with immigrants,” said House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island. “An immigrant is someone who is here legally.”
— Associated Press
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