The town council in this quiet South Carolina bedroom community on Wednesday refused to pass a proposed ordinance banning illegal immigrants from residing in their town.
The 4-3 vote by Summerville Town Council to table the proposal came after some council members warned approving the measure could result in court challenges that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The measure, which could up again at a later date, would have required renters to prove they are U.S. citizens or are living in the country legally. It would have required a verification form be filed with the town.
"In an effort to stick a finger in federal government's eye, I am not willing to spend tax dollars," councilman Mike Dawson said. "I cannot in good conscience risk spending millions."
While the council tabled that housing measure, meaning it could be brought up later for consideration, it did approve another section of the ordinance mirroring South Carolina law and requiring that most employers in town check the immigration status of their workers.
The housing ordinance was proposed by councilman Walter Bailey who said that the federal government is not doing its job in controlling illegal immigration. He urged the council to give the measure final approval Wednesday.
"If we think this is the right thing to do, then let's do it," he said. "When the council makes a decision out of fear of a lawsuit, you are not making policy."
Immigration ordinances in other parts of the country have been challenged in the courts. But Bailey said any federal court challenge in South Carolina would end up at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., one of the more conservative circuits in the nation.
"We have a good chance of prevailing if we go ahead with this," he said.
Councilman Bob Jackson said illegal immigrants are taking away opportunities from Americans and immigrants who are in the nation legally.
"But the reality is the lawsuits and the possibility of lawsuits," he said, adding that in a down economy, the town shouldn't be spending money on lawsuits where there are other needs.
Mayor Pro Tem Ricky Waring suggested "if we do pass it, and we do get hammered with a lawsuit, we can change the ordinance."
The vote to table the housing ordinance was 4-3, with Mayor Berlin Myers casting the deciding vote.
Last month, the council heard about 90 minutes of comments both pro and con. Six people spoke on Wednesday.
Roan Garcia-Quintana, who heads an organization called Americans Have Had Enough! in upstate South Carolina, said illegal immigrants "are sucking the life out of our country" and taxpayers have to pick up the tab for their health care and other costs.
But Jennifer Kuhns of Summerville called the ordinance "a waste of time. Tonight I ask that the good people of our town take a good long breath and take a good long look at the short and long-term problems caused by such an ordinance."
Summerville, which calls itself "Flowertown in the Pines," is a bedroom community of about 45,000 about 20 miles northwest of Charleston.
The immigration debate has attracted nationwide attention since Arizona passed a contentious measure that among other provisions instructs police to question whether people are in the country legally when they are enforcing other laws. A federal judge has since blocked that and others parts of the law from being enforced.
The ACLU has said there are numerous local immigration ordinances across the country, too many to track.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says that lawmakers in 44 states passed more than 300 immigration laws and resolutions during the first six months of this year. Five were vetoed.