Most Americans probably don't realize that there are some federal laws that states don't have to enforce unless they so choose. Appallingly, the immigration law is one of them.
Though sometimes states and localities will work with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, it's not a requirement. State and local law-enforcers aren't even empowered to detect, apprehend, or detain illegal immigrants on their own.
Five years ago Congress gave states the ability to change that, i.e., to enforce immigration laws. But so far no state has chosen to.
Now, thanks to legislation being proposed by state Sen. John Hawkins, R-Spartanburg, and Jim Klauber, R-Greenwood, next year South Carolina may be the first state to give state and local law-enforcement officers authority to crack down on illegal immigration.
Hawkins and Klauber hope their measure will gain traction because, as they explain it, the overwhelming tide of illegal immigrants pouring into this country provides easy cover for terrorists.
Their proposal is further bolstered by an INS estimate that the Palmetto State is harboring more than 5,000 illegal aliens. There are simply too few INS agents - not only in South Carolina but in every state - to adequately enforce immigration laws.
And that plays right into the hands of the illegals. Where do they go to get identification that keeps them under INS' radar screen? To the states, of course, to obtain documents - driver's licenses, voter registration cards and the like - that enable them to pass themselves off as legal immigrants or naturalized citizens.
If Hawkins-Klauber becomes state law, then local and state authorities could move to prevent access to state documents that the illegals so easily exploit.
Other deterrent possibilities loom if the state gets tough: Bail restrictions on illegals considered to be flight risks and impoundment of vehicles being driven by unlicensed, uninsured drivers (most often illegal immigrants).
We encourage South Carolina to become the first state to pass a tough immigration law - and Georgia the second.