Does immigration matter to South Carolina voters?

Does immigration matter to South Carolina voters?
Newt Gingrich

Voters are going to the polls in South Carolina Saturday.

It's going to be a close race in the Republican primary for president and if a recent poll is correct Newt Gingrich could come out ahead. A poll by the American Research Group, conducted Thursday and Friday, showed Gingrich leading Mitt Romney 40 percent to 26 percent.

This would be an interesting outcome as of the current crop of candidates Gingrich has the softer stance on immigration. And South Carolina is a state that supported one of the most stringent immigration laws in the state.

Last year, the state passed a law that allowed police to stop a person suspected of being an undocumented immigrant and check for proof of their legal status.

It is an Arizona type of law and the U.S. Justice Department sued to block portions of the law. A federal judge last month ruled police in South Carolina cannot check a person's immigration status and that the state cannot make it a crime to harbor or transport an undocumented immigrant.

Federal judges have blocked most parts of the immigration laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana. The rationale is that immigration enforcement is a jurisdiction of the federal government.

So why do states keep passing these laws?

Some are concerned about the growing Hispanic population and they fear undocumented immigrants are taking jobs.

In South Carolina, the Hispanic population has grown 148 percent, according to the 2010 census, a higher rate than any other state. Still Hispanics, who have legal status or not, only comprise 5 percent of South Carolina's population.

That's not very many people. I believe that many of these laws are based on fears of cultural change as opposed to an economic argument.

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, even those who are undocumented, and help sustain the Social Security system. They work in jobs, such as field workers, that many Americans don't want. Just look at what happened in Alabama after they passed their tough immigration law. Produce rotted in the fields.

It is important to note that many undocumented immigrants have long-term roots in the United States also have relatives who are U.S. citizens.

While Romney would deport them all, Gingrich has taken a somewhat more open position.

Gingrich has said people who have been here 25 years or more and are undocumented should be allowed to stay if they meet certain requirements.

In my opinion, that is not a very liberal position. Newt knows he needs to be a little more open to win Latino voters. But I don't think his strategy will work.

The Pew Hispanic Center found that almost two-thirds of the undocumented in the United States have lived here at least 10 years.

So Gingrich's plan wouldn't apply to most of the undocumented. He also is calling for tougher enforcement at the U.S.-Mexico border.

After Gingrich made his positions clear in the debates, pundits said he would lose conservative voters.

But the real question is whether the immigration issue will even make a difference in how the people of South Carolina vote.

If Gingrich wins, then maybe that's a sign that immigration isn't a deal-breaking issue as everybody thought it would be. And neither is his infidelity.

We will soon see.

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  • Better question: Does South Carolina matter to the rest of the country. Remember, this is the state whose voters gave the thumbs up to flying a confederate flag atop public buildings.

    South Carolina (in terms of importance) is the new New Hampshire.

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