Immigration, Transportation and Fraud Issues

No topic stirred more controversy than the discussions held regarding immigration, transportation and fraud. The Ad Hoc Committee discussed these topics at three consecutive meetings before ever moving forward to look at other issues.

As it relates to immigration, research conducted during the writing of this report revealed that a person who comes to this country by illegal means or stays beyond their approved visitation period, has a good chance of remaining in this country undetected or ignored. Information obtained from the United States Department of Justice - Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), indicated that the cost
of capturing and deporting every illegal immigrant would require a massive INS federal budget. Therefore, INS’s stated policy regarding illegal immigration is to focus their attention on the deportation of the “criminal element” rather than addressing the status of all “illegal immigrants.” Note the distinction - “criminal element” verses “illegal immigrant.” This policy has tremendous consequences for state and local governments, who must provide state and local services, regardless
of one’s immigration status.

With that said, the most controversial topic discussed by the Ad Hoc Committee was the issue of whether “illegal immigrants” should be allowed to obtain a South Carolina Driver’s License and have driving privileges in the state. The committee agreed that having a driver’s license and having access to transportation were basic necessities of daily living, especially because of South Carolina’s lack of mass transit and its mostly rural landscape. Additionally, it is commonly accepted by social scientist that poverty is exacerbated when individuals do not have access to transportation. Transportation is key to obtaining and seeking employment. Transportation allows one to access educational opportunities for oneself, as well as members of one’s family. Health care becomes accessible when one has transportation to attend medical appointments for self, as well as members of the family.

With it being generally accepted that one needs transportation in this state to prosper, why would so many people question the appropriateness of issuing driver’s licenses to our newest Hispanic/Latino immigrants. The answer goes to the heart of the issue, that being one’s illegal immigration status, i.e., entering this country by illegal means or staying beyond the time approved for visitation to this country. Many feel that to afford “illegal immigrants” the same rights and privileges as legal U.S. citizens and South Carolina residents amounts to awarding “lawlessness” and sends a message that we welcome “illegal immigrants.” On the other hand, those who support making such concessions, as was the position of the members of the Ad Hoc Committee, see such a move as recognizing current federal policy as currently being implemented by the INS. Also, the members of the Ad Hoc Committee see it clearly as the humane thing to do.

Another concern regarding the driver’s license issue was whether the State Department of Public Safety, Office of Motor Vehicle Services was overstepping its statutory authority by requiring persons to show a social security number when making application for a driver’s license. Persons from the Hispanic/Latino community contend that the state statute allows discretion in the application of the social security number requirement. However, long-standing policies of the Office of Motor Vehicle Services adversely impacts the chances of Hispanics/Latinos obtaining a South Carolina driver’s license because of the requirement to provide a social security number. Members of the Ad Hoc Committee support the relaxing of the requirement. However, officials from the Department of Public Safety have indicated that relaxing of the policy is unlikely because of state and federal reporting requirements placed on the agency. Additionally, the agency takes the position that it was never the intent of the state to issue South Carolina driver’s licenses to “illegal immigrants.” During the last session of the General Assembly, several pieces of legislation were introduced to amend current state statutes to clearly make issuing of a state driver’s license to an “illegal alien,” using the language of the proposed statutes, unlawful in the State of South Carolina. If the legislation passes in the upcoming session, the matter would be resolved for the time being.

Because of the need to provide documentation in order to receive certain services from governmental, health, and other service providers, an illegal market for the production of fraudulent documents has thrived in the state. Fraudulent driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and other false documents are commonly confiscated by law enforcement officers and other governmental employees. Persons who support the issuance of driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants suggest that this fraudulent market could be curtailed if immigrants, regardless of their status, were allowed to obtain valid documents, such as a state driver’s license.

As stated in the outset, the members of the Ad Hoc Committee had much discussion regarding these issues. They determined that the matter is clearly in the hands of members of the General Assembly and the Congress of the United States. As the final touches were being added to this report, The State Newspaper printed an article on Tuesday, July 17, 2001 about “a plan that could grant legal status to up to 3 million Mexicans living in the United States.” The plan is being weighed by the Bush administration and represents one of the largest amnesty programs ever considered. If the plan gains the support of President Bush and enough members of Congress, many of the issues related to the need be addressed for Mexican immigrants. As U. S. citizens, they would be able to apply for a South Carolina driver’s license as long as they complied with other requirements as set forth by the Department of Public Safety.

Regardless of the outcome of the efforts at the federal level, South Carolina will still need to establish its own policy regarding how to address its growing immigrant population. Regardless of their immigration status, legal or illegal, Hispanics/Latinos will continue to come as long as employers are willing to provide work. This new population will need the same education, health care, public safety and other services afforded to resident South Carolinians. How South Carolina pays for these services remains to be determined.

In conclusion, the members of the Ad Hoc Committee advise consideration of the following recommendations:

    1. That the State of South Carolina follow the lead of the INS and focus its attention on the “criminal element” as oppose to all “illegal immigrants.”

    2. That any future State policies and laws advance equal opportunities to all immigrants who desire to settle in South Carolina.

    3. That the State support the issuance of the South Carolina Driver’s License to any person who can demonstrate ties with the community and a competency to drive, regardless of their immigration status.

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