SUMMERVILLE — Town Council tabled a controversial ordinance Wednesday night that requires employers and landlords to try harder to weed out illegal immigrants.
The ordinance, which had attracted national attention as one of the strictest in the country, would have required applicants to present a driver ’s license or other state-approved identification to get hired or rent a house. Some renters would have had to apply to the town for an occupancy permit.
Landlords called it an unworkable government intrusion into the town’s 7,200 rental units. The town attorney warned that similar ordinances in other cities have been shelved because of lawsuits.
Council tabled the ordinance and instead gave first-reading approval to another one that focuses only on employers, requiring them to check the immigration status of workers. Both the state and Dorchester County have recently passed similar employment laws, and the town’s version generated no controversy.
The vote to table the ordinance that included renters was 4-3, with Mayor Berlin G. Myers casting the tie-breaking vote.
Arguments were passionate on both sides, from the audience as well as on council.
Roan Garcia-Quintana of Mauldin, executive director of Americans Have Had Enough!, spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“It’s a very much needed ordinance,” he said. “Illegal aliens are sucking the life of our country.”
Jennifer Kuhns, who identified herself as a mother, spoke against it. “This ordinance is a waste of time that will do nothing to benefit or reward our town,” she said.
Ryan Castle, government affairs director for the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, objected to the town stepping into the rental market.
“This is not about immigration,” he said. “It’s about government intrusion into the rental housing market.”Ron Turner defended the ordinance. “I too am an American who has had enough,” he said.
Bernie Mazyck, an African-American and lifelong resident, said the ordinance brought back bad memories.
“I stand here saddened by this attempt to separate us once again,” he said. “You will set a tone of fear among true citizens that this town stands for moving the clock back.”
S.C. Apartment Association President Victoria Cowart said the ordinance would cost the town millions in legal fees, because it violates federal laws.
“This has already failed in the courts,” she said.
Councilman Walter Bailey, an attorney and former 1st Circuit solicitor, previously said he modeled the ordinance after a similar one in Fremont, Neb. The Fremont ordinance was supposed to go into effect the last of July but was put on hold after lawsuits from groups that called it discriminatory.
Judges also struck down similar measures in Hazleton, Pa., and Farmers Branch, Texas. Councilman Mike Dawson made the motion to table the ordinance.
“I just cannot with good conscience risk potentially spending millions in taxpayer dollars just to make a point,” he said.
“If we think this is the right thing to do, we should do it,” Bailey said.
Councilman Ricky Waring said council should pass the ordinance and then consider rescinding it if the town gets sued. “I think we’ve got to take a stand sometimes,” Waring said. “We can undo any ordinance we can pass.”
Councilman Aaron Brown said his African-American constituents are against the ordinance.
“There has never been one iota of proof that this ordinance is necessary,” he said. “In my opinion, this total ordinance is a waste of our time and is going to be a blight on this town.”
Brown also voted against the substitute ordinance aimed at employers, which passed first reading 5-1.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or firstname.lastname@example.org.