South Carolina becoming battleground in immigration reform - - Columbia, South Carolina

South Carolina becoming battleground in immigration reform


As senators part of the "Gang of Eight" who have tasked themselves with crafting a comprehensive immigration reform bill say they are inching closer to a deal, the debate has landed firmly in the Palmetto State because of senior Sen. Lindsey Graham's involvement in the group.

Graham has supported previous efforts to reform the country's 50-year-old immigration laws, but this is the first time in many years that a comprehensive bill has a chance of passing Congress.

Graham took to Twitter Thursday morning with tough tone on the issue.

"I don't mind walking away from the immigration bill if it's a bad bill," said Graham. "I will do it in a heartbeat."

However, political consultant and immigration reform organizer Shell Suber says it's an antiquated policy that needs to be revamped to deal with the changing times.

"There are many companies right here in South Carolina that need high-skilled immigrants to be able to compete with their competitors in Europe and Asia," said Suber.

Suber says tourism, agriculture, and construction are major industries that often depend on skilled, seasonal workers.

"They need the workers, we need them to have those employees, but they need to know who is and who isn't legally here. Right now it's very difficult to verify employment," said Suber.

He says many citizens are afraid immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans.

"It might not be that only immigrants want these jobs it's -- there's not enough Americans who want them," said Suber.

The temporary, relatively low-paying jobs are still critical to the economy, particularly in South Carolina.

"We have 17 million visitors to just Horry County a year in South Carolina," said Suber. "There is no way there's enough of a workforce in Horry County or even near Horry County that can commute to those restaurants and hotels to service that many tables, clean that many rooms."

Critics say Graham is advocating for amnesty for illegal immigrants. Suber says the path to citizenship is not amnesty.

"Citizenship is a privilege that many people want to earn but it will not be easy," said Suber. "It may take many years."

It could take years, illegal immigrants may have to pay a fine and would have to pay taxes. It's a process that's still be ironed out but Suber says citizenship is not the first priority.

"The first priority for all those involved, including Sen. Graham, is border security. We must secure the borders," said Suber.

There are talks that there could be an immigration reform bill and a possible vote as soon as this summer, but there are still a lot of issues to be fleshed out. On Tuesday, Graham really reached out to the evangelical community in an effort to stress it as a moral issue for the faith community.

So what are the sticking points that stand in the way of a deal? General resistance and people not seeing a personal impact.

Suber says many believe illegal immigrants should not be rewarded with citizenship but punished for entering illegally.

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