Commissioners to meet with immigration lawyer

Published 6:17 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2007

By Staff
Want to know actions they can take to stem illegal-immigration tide
Staff Writer
Early next month, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet with a lawyer experienced in the debate over illegal immigration.
Michael Hethmon, general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute, will meet with commissioners to answer their questions about what they can legally do at the county level to stem illegal immigration. The IRLI, which represents U.S. citizens in immigration-related matters, is the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s affiliate that provides legal services to FAIR.
Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill said Hethmon will likely approach the immigration issue from two perspectives.
Commissioners already receive monthly counts of the number of health-department clients who require the help of interpreters. Those counts provide commissioners no hard evidence as to whether a client is a U.S. citizen, illegal immigrant or legal immigrant. Going a step farther, Spruill said, commissioners want to know if they can legally require county agencies to determine if a client is an illegal immigrant. Commissioners also want to know if there is a way they can provide different levels of service to those agencies’ clients, depending on whether those clients are U.S. citizens, legal immigrants or illegal immigrants, Spruill said. County government cannot restrict entitlement services such as Medicaid, food stamps or public-health services that are controlled by the federal government, Spruill said.
At the club’s meeting, Commissioner Hood Richardson said he is “against any subsidies” that might aid undocumented aliens living in Beaufort County.
In an interview Monday, Richardson said he hopes to come away from the meeting with the lawyer with a plan to impose a program at various county agencies to “disallow subsidized services” to illegal immigrants, “especially at the department of health.”
Richardson said that subsidies for U.S. citizens to receive medical services at the health department should not extend to illegal immigrants. He said a dual fee schedule should be worked out that spells out the prices for specific services provided to citizens and prices for those same services when provided to people who are not U.S. citizens.
Spruill said Hethmon was repeatedly mentioned by individuals he talked with and who have experience with immigration law. Hethmon agreed to meet with commissioners in open session free of charge if the county agreed to compensate him for travel and accommodation, Spruill said.
Hethmon is an attorney for the town of Hazleton, Pa., where the Town Council implemented an ordinance imposing heavy fines — among other restrictions — on businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants and landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. The town’s ordinance was struck down by a U.S. District Court judge in July. The town is appealing the judge’s decision.