Will South Carolina Follow Arizona’s Lead?

By Seth Freed Wessler May 05, 2010

South Carolina is the first and only state to have introduced a SB 1070 copycat bill since Arizona passed the law. There are 10 additional states where lawmakers have said they’d do the same. While many of those states are unlikely to see a bill actually voted into law, South Carolina’s particularly dangerous mix of states’-rights conservatism, anti-immigrant politicking and a devastating jobs crisis make it a different story. Donna Dewitt, an immigrant rights advocate who works for the South Carolina AFL-CIO, says that although the state is unlikely to pass an Arizona copycat bill this year because the legislative session is coming to an end, "the chances of a bill passing next year are very very high. It will be passed here." Dewitt says that many politicians in South Carolina are blaming immigrants for the jobs crisis that has pushed the state to unemployment above 12 percent. "Many politicians know that jobs are a big issue," says Dewitt, "and they know that there’s a worry about immigrants and they are pulling the two together." As I reported yesterday, South Carolina is one of seven states where the leading legislative voices behind Arizona copycat proposals are members of the group State Legislators for Legal Immigration. (In South Carolina, one of the bills co-sponsors, Rep. Michael Pitts, is listed as a member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration’s website.) The group, which operates in 35 states, is an arm of FAIR, the far-right, anti-immigrant group credited with helping to draft SB 1070. FAIR and its network of groups are committed to passing similar legislation elsewhere, and as Eric Ward of the Center for New Community in Chicago told me, "It would be a mistake to underestimate [them]." This message is one to which other states would be wise to listen, especially since unemployment is going to stay high, and the openings for politicians in to use economic anxiety to bash immigrants are not closing any time soon.