Beaufort News

Bluffton to consider illegal immigration ordinance

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka wants the town to consider whether it needs an ordinance to stop the employment of illegal immigrants, similar to a Beaufort County law that allows audits of businesses' employee rolls.

The county ordinance went into effect in 2008 and applies only to businesses in unincorporated Beaufort County.

With a new town manager and Town Council in place since that ordinance took effect, Sulka said it is time to consider the benefits and disadvantages of such a law and has directed town manager Anthony Barrett to evaluate the county's ordinance.

"I want to bring it up for discussion to see if it's something we want as well," she said.

Sulka said she got the idea at a forum Wednesday, when about a dozen government officials discussed federal, state and local laws governing illegal immigration.

County administrator Gary Kubic said in an e-mail Saturday that Bluffton has a smaller pool of businesses and if it considers a similar statute, "it should help."

South Carolina law requires a check on the immigration status of newly hired employees.

Beaufort County's audits, conducted by a private security firm, look at how employers process the federal I-9 form, which documents immigration status.

Kubic said the county ordinance does not verify the authenticity of documents, but evaluates how employers handle I-9 forms.

New employees can show more than 20 types of identification, he said.

The audits also determine whether businesses are reporting revenue accurately to the county and are properly licensed.

Under the Beaufort County law, auditors must have access to three years of gross receipts, a list of employees and each employee's I-9 form. The audits are conducted randomly, and businesses receive three days' advance notice.

Businesses can lose their licenses as a penalty for not complying with the law.

The ordinance was opposed by the Beaufort Regional and Hilton Head Island-Bluffton chambers of commerce, homebuilders and hospitality associations as well as the Latin American Council of South Carolina.

Carlotta Ungaro, president of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce, said businesses have told her the county's audits are cumbersome. The process is "more of an annoyance than anything," she said.

Bill Miles, president of the Hilton Head-Bluffton chamber, said his organization will not take a stance on whether Bluffton should adopt an ordinance until it hears more specifics. Miles said the chamber supports comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level.

"As far as ... implementing (laws) at a local level, it brings forth another level of government and regulations," Miles said.

Bluffton Town Council member Mike Raymond said he isn't sure if Town Council should get involved in illegal immigration laws.

"That's going to call for a big workshop," he said. "Right now, I don't know if that's our responsibility in any shape or form."