Charleston suburb moves to ban illegal immigrants from town

The Summerville Town Council Wednesday night approved the first reading of a controversial ordinance that would require landlords to verify a tenant’s legal status before renting to them.

The town council voted 4-2 in support of the measure first proposed by council member Walter Bailey.

The measure, if it passes the Council, would affect nearly every landlord-tenant agreement in Summerville. Bailey’s ordinance would make it illegal for landlords or property owners to rent to illegal immigrants. Violators of the ordinance would have to pay a $100 fine for each offense.

Charleston Trident Association of Realtors, an advocacy group for realtors and property managers, does not like the ordinance as is, and it is currently working with Bailey to refine wording.

“We’re just trying to make sure that there’s not a burden put on the citizens that were born here, the citizens that have legally immigrated here, and that simply want to rent property in the town of Summerville,” said Ryan Castle, the director of the Association of Realtors Government Affairs.

According to the ordinance, to verify legal status landlords and property managers will need to keep a copy of the tenant’s state or government issued ID card. If tenants don’t have that, they would have to apply with the town for what’s called an “occupancy license,” which would ask for legal status.

“It’s almost inevitable that such an immigration ordinance locally would lead to discrimination,” said Vicki Middleton of the South Carolina American Civil Liberties Union.

Middleton attended Summerville town council’s meeting. She questions the legality of the ordinance under federal housing law and the constitutionality of it because she says illegal immigration issues should be handled by federal government.

“Congress and the courts consistently have upheld that the federal government’s authority and responsibility to enforce immigration law,” Middleton said. “It will expect that city employees and landlords ascretain whether someone is a citizen or not, and that’s really unfair burden for people who are not trained in illegal immigration law.”

The ACLU says ordinances like this have been enacted in municipalities in California, Texas, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and they’ve failed, costing big money in lawsuits.

“Let’s say $85,000, $100,000, upwards to the millions,” Middleton said.

Bailey says he is sure that there will be lawsuits against the town, but the town has insurance for that. He says the cost is well worth it though because illegals do not pay taxes, they take jobs away from citizens, and some of them commit crimes.

The ordinance also requires that employees check legal status of employees, but that part of the ordinance was not as controversial because that is currently what has to happen by state and Dorchester County laws.

The ordinance will be up for final approval next month.