SUMMERVILLE - An ordinance to require apartment managers and employerstoverify the immigration status of renters and workers got initial councilapproval Wednesday, despite pleas from landlords and threats oflawsuits.
If the ordinance gets final approval next month, it would be one of themostrestrictive in the nation.
There was little controversy over making employers check immigrationstatus,since both the state and Dorchester County have recently passed similarlaws. But there was a lot of argument over making property managersdemandmore proof of residency from renters.
S.C. Apartment Association President Victoria Cowart warned council theordinance would cost the town money, as renters avoided Summervillebecauseof the hassle. The town has 7,200 rental units, she said.
"This will hamper our business," she said. "People will turn around andgo(somewhere else)."
Charleston Apartment Association President Marysa Raymond warned thattheordinance conflicts with federal fair housing laws.S.C. American Civil Liberties Union Director Victoria Middleton warnedthatthe ordinance would spark a lawsuit in Summerville, as it has in othercities where it was tried.
"We have doubts about the constitutionality of this measure," she said.Town Attorney Mark Stokes recently advised council not to pass theordinancebecause of the probability of lawsuits. Councilmen Aaron Brown and MikeDawson, who voted against the ordinance Wednesday, repeated thatwarning.
"We've all heard that it's a fool that doesn't take the advice of hisattorney," Brown said before the vote.
"There is a tremendous liability involved here. It's going to cost youastaxpayers to defend these lawsuits."
"A lawsuit is not just a possibility; it's a certainty," Dawson said.Councilman Walter Bailey, who proposed the ordinance, brushed offconcernsover lawsuits.
"All I'm asking is that people who come to this country stand in linelikeeverybody else ... and become legal," Bailey said. "I'm offended by theintimidation by the ACLU and other groups. If they want to challenge usto alawsuit, I'll accept that challenge. ... We need to stand up and dowhat'sright."
Mayor Berlin Myers allowed the audience more than hour to express theirconcerns before the vote. Many residents urged council to move aheadwiththe ordinance.
"This is about being here with the right papers," Dennis Driggers toldcouncil. "Stand up. Don't be scared."
"This country has got to get back to having some backbone and crackingthewhip," Timothy Granger said. "I think we need to get back to gettingsomerules and regulations. ... It's not about profiling, it's about beinglegal."
Reba Campbell, deputy executive Director of the S.C. MunicipalAssociation,said before the meeting that she didn't know of any other municipalityinSouth Carolina considering a similar ordinance.
Bailey recently said he based on the ordinance on a similar move inFremont,Neb. Fremont's law was supposed to go into effect the last of July, butthecity suspended it pending the outcome of lawsuits by the ACLU ofNebraskaand the Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund.Judges also struck down similar measures in Hazleton, Pa., and FarmersBranch, Texas.
An Arizona immigration law went into effect last month. But a provisionthatrequires police to check the immigration status of everyone they stop isonhold after a judge said it was unconstitutional.
The South Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act was passed in 2008.Theact increases requirements on employers to verify the work eligibilitystatus of newly hired workers and denies many public benefits forillegalimmigrants.
States, counties and municipalities are filling the void because thelastimmigration reform efforts in Congress in 2005 fell flat.About 1,000 immigrations bills have been brought up in statelegislatures sofar this year, CCN reported in April, citing the National Conference ofState Legislatures.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or firstname.lastname@example.org.