As dusk settled across the State House grounds on a recent Wednesday night, scores of people opposed to South Carolina's latest immigration bill gathered for a candlelight prayer vigil.
The crowd of more than 280 people was filled with women and children. A female Methodist minister led the vigil. And of the 11 people who read Bible verses in English and Spanish, seven were female.
As the S.C. General Assembly has considered the bill during the past year, the opposition to it has been steady and strong.
And it has been driven by women.
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The arguments against the bill have focused on religious values, human rights concerns and civil rights issues — all issues that women are more likely to be involved in, experts say.
“I suspect it’s because women are more compassionate, more women than men are involved in social services and therefore see the needs of the Latino community, and women tend to be more active in church work, and churches are among the groups opposing the bill,” said Elaine Lacy, a professor at USC-Aiken who has done extensive research on Latinos in South Carolina.
The bill, which is under consideration by a House judiciary subcommittee, would create an Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit that would operate statewide under the supervision of the S.C. Department of Public Safety. The House is expected to take up the issue this week.
The Senate already has set aside $1.3 million in its proposed budget to start up the 12-member unit and outfit it with cars and other equipment. The bill also would require all police officers to check the residency status of anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant.
The bill specifically outlaws racial profiling as a reason to check documents. But the bill’s opponents have argued that it nonetheless will encourage it and further alienate Hispanics in South Carolina.
Anna Walton, a USC graduate student, is one of those who got involved through her social services work.
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