About a dozen elected officials and government representatives gathered Wednesday for a 30-minute forum to distribute information about federal, state and local laws governing illegal immigration.
Moderated by attorney Melissa Azallion, panelists stuck to facts and didn't debate the often-controversial issue. There was no opportunity for public comment or questions.
Beaufort County Board of Education chairman Fred Washington Jr., who helped organize the forum, said its purpose was to dispel misconceptions that circulate in the community and to provide accurate information.
The forum focused on how laws governing immigration relate to education, employment, health care, public services and law enforcement.
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A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision gives undocumented children the right to a free public education, said Beaufort County Schools superintendent Valerie Truesdale. Primary and secondary schools cannot deny admission to undocumented children or ask parents or students to reveal their immigration status, she said.
Illegal immigrants do not, however, have the right to attend public colleges or universities.
Federal, state and county laws prohibit businesses from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
South Carolina law requires all employers to ensure new hires are properly verified, said Jim Knight, a representative from the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations. The department has 23 investigators who audit businesses and investigate complaints to ensure compliance.
Beaufort County also has a lawful employment ordinance that applies to businesses in unincorporated Beaufort County. It gives the county authority to conduct an audit of compliance with immigration laws.
Federal law requires hospitals to provide care to anyone needing emergency treatment, regardless of citizenship. Hospitals do not have a duty to report undocumented immigrants, said Gerald Schulze, chairman of the Board of Trustees for Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
Federally qualified health centers must provide care to all residents of the medically under-served populations where they are located, said Roland Gardner, CEO of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health.
South Carolina law requires agencies to verify the legal status of anyone over 18 who applies for a state or local public service through an affidavit, said Fred Leyda, facilitator for the Beaufort County Human Services Alliance. Verification is not required for some services, including prenatal care and emergency disaster relief.
The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has a contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security to enforce federal statutes concerning criminal activity by illegal immigrants. The Sheriff's Office has six deputies committed to the effort, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.