By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - South Carolina lawmakers on Tuesday sent Governor Nikki Haley a bill that requires police to check suspects' immigration status and penalizes businesses that hire workers in the country illegally.
The action follows similar moves by Georgia and Alabama, and a milder measure in North Carolina, as a number of states crack down on illegal immigration.
The governor is expected to sign the bill that will allow the state to revoke the business license of any employer who knowingly employs "unauthorized aliens."
"Today, South Carolina joined a growing number of states who are taking proactive steps to address the problems created by immigrants who not only come into our country illegally, but also violate our laws while here," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Republican.
By a 69-43 vote, the state House of Representatives agreed to Senate amendments that require employers to use the federal E-Verify database to check their employees' residency status.
The measure creates a grace period of one year for employers, during which penalties will be probationary. After that, employers can face temporary suspension of their business license for hiring illegal immigrants and reinstatement fees after those workers have been fired. On third offense, an employer's business license can be revoked.
Democrats argued that it will be impossible for every employer in South Carolina to use E-Verify because not everyone has access to the Internet. They also argued that immigration law falls to the federal government, not the states.
"What happened to business-friendly South Carolina?" said Representative Harry L. Ott Jr., the House minority leader. "Do I have to E-Verify every person who comes and applies for a job? (This is) profiling people on what I perceive that they look like."
The bill also requires police to check the immigration status of any individual they suspect is in the country illegally after they have stopped that person for another reason.
It creates a new Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit within state police to serve as the liaison between local officers and the federal government.
Several states have enacted immigration restrictions, even though the U.S. government considers it to be a federal issue.
North Carolina lawmakers three days ago passed a measure requiring businesses with 25 or more employees to check the citizenship status of job applicants on E-Verify.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)