Theory, application could collide in immigration bill

Lawmakers should listen carefully to concerns raised by law enforcement officials about asking them to take on illegal immigration enforcement.

With limited financial and staffing resources, asking police officers to take on a new, very difficult job most likely will mean something else doesn't get done.

As Reggie Lloyd, director of the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division, so succinctly put it: "Do you want us to chase the guy who cut his wife's head off or is in MS-13 (a gang) or dealing drugs, or do you want us to get the guy on top of the roof nailing shingles? We can't do it all."

Lloyd has already told lawmakers that his agency hasn't had the resources to implement law enforcement requirements under the state’s 2008 immigration reform law.

The bills that have been introduced for this legislative session are modeled after Arizona’s controversial law, which faces serious legal challenges.

One significant change such a law would bring, if it can withstand federal challenge, is that it would empower state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws, even without a specific agreement with federal authorities.

Lawmakers ought to wait for the outcome of the challenges to Arizona’s law before jumping on this bandwagon, especially since we already have in place what many consider to be one of the tougher illegal immigration laws in the country.

The law’s primary aim is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the state by making sure employers only hire people who are here legally. It also cuts off public services to people who aren’t here legally.

But even more importantly, lawmakers ought to get their own questions answered before moving on the issue. Members of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Thursday advanced one of the immigration bills despite their own legal questions. A staff attorney was asked to draft changes to address their concerns.

These are no small matters. One of the issues raised Thursday was that the bill asked police officers to verify the immigration status of suspected illegal immigrants who are detained in connection with another crime. Law enforcement officials say it would be difficult to verify residency status in many situations, and there are laws about detaining people without cause.

In short, lawmakers should be very careful not to make an already difficult job even more difficult, especially without giving law enforcement the resources to do it right. And that’s assuming the measure can stand up to legal challenge.