Controversy Heats Up Over Illegal Immigration in the Low Country

Supporters of the Lawful Employment Ordinance and those opposing it packed Beaufort County Council Chambers Monday.
Supporters of the Lawful Employment Ordinance and those opposing it packed Beaufort County Council Chambers Monday.

Immigration is one of the hottest topics in the Americas, and cracking down on illegals is controversial. In the Low Country, some residents want Beaufort County to crack down on businesses hiring illegal workers.

Beaufort County was supposed to have the third and final reading of the proposal Monday night, but it didn't happen.

After a long executive session behind closed doors, the county council decided not to vote on the Lawful Employment Ordinance, instead calling on federal and state leaders to enforce current immigration laws, while they decide what to do in the county.

Supporters of the ordinance and those opposing it packed Beaufort County Council Chambers, waiting to put their two cents in on this controversial measure. The ordinance is designed to prevent county businesses from employing illegal immigrants through the county's business license program.

"The business owners tell us they can't compete with illegal workforce that's able to undercut them and bid for jobs," said county councilwoman Starletta Hairston.

Under the proposal, businesses hiring illegal workers could have their business licenses suspended. While supporters say it's a way to level the playing field, others say it's just not right.

"It violates the basic civil rights, that's what's hidden in that ordinance," said Roberto Gonzales.

Although the council decided to hold off on the vote, it didn't stop a number of people from voicing their concerns during the public hearing. In fact, many business owners, like Cristina Willett, say this ordinance could open a can of worms the county could regret.

"We are talking about eliminating a workforce," said Willett. "What are we going to substitute it with?"

Willett and many other business owners like Chris Butler of Butler Marine are also concerned about the liability of having to run additional checks on employees' immigration status, like this ordinance calls for.

"I'm not an immigration officer," said Willett. " I don't want to go through all the legal papers."

While some say the proposed ordinance discriminates against Hispanics, supporters say they want the law upheld and want the county to go forward with their plans.

Beaufort County Council is going to review the ordinance next week during a committee meeting and decide whether to move forward with it.

Reported by: Jaime Dailey,