No time like the present for immigration reform

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No time like the present for immigration reform

Published Sunday, November 18, 2012   |  539 Words  |  

South Carolina officials who have long lamented federal inaction on immigration reform should get behind U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's latest efforts to deliver it.

On the heels of a GOP presidential election defeat that saw 71 percent of Hispanic voters choose President Barack Obama, Graham is resurrecting comprehensive immigration reform, with the help of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York.

The proposal Graham and Schumer are discussing includes increased border security and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people here illegally. That path would require a clean police record, paying fines and taxes and learning English.

The hard part of that list is dealing with our borders. Defining a "secure" border won't be easy to do across partisan lines.

Graham told The Greenville News he backed off immigration reform as the 2010 election approached. The election was politicizing the debate too much.

It's difficult to imagine an apolitical debate on the subject, but the time may never be more right than now to tackle the issue.

Here in South Carolina, a federal judge on Thursday lifted his injunction against police enforcement of a controversial provision of the state's immigration law, passed in 2011.

The law requires police to check the legal status of people they stop for other reasons. Judge Richard Gergel's ruling is not all that surprising after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar provision in Arizona law.

Gergel noted that it is still illegal for officers to stop people solely to check their immigration status or to detain them for more than "a reasonable amount of time as allowed by law" while checking their status.

At a hearing preceding Thursday's ruling, that subject led to an arcane discussion about how long officers could hold motorists along the roadside while a check was under way. According to an Associated Press report on the hearing, 38 minutes might be reasonable, while 90 minutes violates 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Supreme Court has indicated 90 minutes is too long.

An affidavit from the S.C. State Law Enforcement Support Center stated it could take 81 minutes to run a check.

Some law enforcement officials, who were cool to the idea when the law was being debated in the legislature, said after Gergel's ruling that they would wait for specific direction from the state Attorney General's Office.

That guidance should be offered quickly, and it should keep in mind the judge's warning that police could prompt a lawsuit if their actions appear to violate a person's civil rights.

Gergel kept in place his block on provisions of the law that would make it a state crime to transport or harbor illegal immigrants and make it crime not to carry immigration paperwork. The judge said only the federal government has authority over keeping track of people in the U.S. who aren't citizens.

That brings us back to comprehensive reform. Reform that strengthens our borders and lays out a clear path to legal status should be supported, and Graham should be applauded, not derided, for tackling this complex and controversial issue.