S.C. Faith, Agribusiness Leaders Build Support for Immigration Reform

Communications Associate

July 8, 2015

No one would mistake South Carolina for even a purple state, but support for immigration reform has been strong and growing there.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate “Gang of Eight” that sponsored comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, proceeded to glide to victory in his 2014 Republican primary. Pro-reform GOP presidential candidates have won the past four primaries in the state.

A large proportion of Republican primary voters in South Carolina are evangelical, and many evangelical pastors and other local leaders have been speaking in favor of immigration reform. Better policy also is a high priority for the agricultural sector.


My message to the candidates visiting South Carolina would be this: Don’t try to win votes with extreme rhetoric about immigrants or impractical solutions to our nation’s immigration problem. Evangelicals care about immigrants as people, and we want to have an intelligent conversation about how to reform our immigration system in a way that helps our economy, secures our border and provides a way for people to get right with the law.”

The Rev. Robbie McAlister of Lexington, pastor of Riverbend Church

GOP Primary Voters are Largely Evangelical and Support Reform

As reported in The State, “Sixty percent of [South Carolina] primary voters said they were evangelical Christians in a February 2014 Winthrop Poll. A greater percentage of GOP voters — 84 percent — said religion was very important to them.”

Nationwide, 66 percent of white evangelicals favor some type of legal status for undocumented immigrants, according to 2014 findings from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

This year, PRRI polled voters in states including South Carolina. The survey found that 56 percent of South Carolinians favored a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements.

South Carolina evangelicals speak in favor of immigration reform:

The Rev. Robbie McAlister is a pastor at Riverbend Church in Lexington, S.C. 

Meghan Smith is a Spartanburg resident and ministry leader at Kaleidoscope Multi-Ethnic Fellowship. Her husband, Derrick, is pastor of the congregation.

Rev. Floyd M. Baker Jr., Global Mission International, Central Avenue, Summerville, S.C.

  • Derrick Smith, pastor of Kaleidoscope Multi-Ethnic Fellowship in Spartanburg and Executive Director of SC Test Prep, speaks on the need to make immigration personal: Immigration 2020 – Pastor Derrick Smith


Pro-reform Presidential Candidates Win South Carolina: 

In the past four GOP presidential primaries in South Carolina, candidates who called for an earned legalization process for the undocumented were often falsely accused of supporting “amnesty” — but still won the primary, where evangelicals make up a majority of the voters, according to the National Journal. That includes Newt Gingrich in 2012, whom exit polls show won twice as many evangelical votes in the GOP primary as either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, the second- and third-place finishers, respectively. Both Romney and Santorum took harsh positions on immigration and refused to support earned legalization.

In 2008, John McCain, who had recently championed a strong bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate, defeated Mike Huckabee after the latter proposed a self-deportation policy. Of course, George W. Bush was pro-reform and won in South Carolina twice.

Agribusiness — State’s Largest Industry — Relies on Immigrants, Needs Reform

Immigrants are the backbone of South Carolina’s economy. As a recent South Carolina Farm Bureau op-ed points out, 72 percent of agriculture workers are foreign-born, sustaining an industry that adds $4.2 billion to the state’s economy annually, “yet the broken immigration system delivers stifling blows to our state’s economy.” Meanwhile, Who’ll pick SC Peaches? “In the fruit orchards of the Carolinas, farmers confront a blue-collar labor vacuum.”

Demographic Changes

Although immigrants make up a relatively small percentage of South Carolina’s population, the foreign-born share of the state’s population more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, from 1.4 percent in 1990 to 4.8 percent in 2013, according to the Migration Policy Institute and the U.S. Census. The top countries of origin are Mexico, India and China. Overall, 5.2 percent of South Carolina’s population is Hispanic.

Perhaps reflecting the need for agricultural labor, South Carolina’s 95,000 immigrants who lack authorization make up 41 percent of the state’s foreign-born residents — and 3 percent of the state’s labor force. Nearly 4 percent of K-12 students in South Carolina have at least one undocumented parent.

Among the foreign-born population, 69.4 percent participate in the labor force, compared with 61.2 percent of native-born South Carolinians, Census figures show.

South Carolina Faith, Law Enforcement/Veteran, Business Media Availability:

Wilfredo Leon, CEO and Editor, Periodico Latino

Robbie McAlister, Pastor, Riverbend Community Church

Derrick Smith, Southern Baptist Pastor, Founder and Executive Director of Curriculum and Development – SC Test Prep

Kay Wang, retired Charleston Police Officer and Army Command Sergeant Major (ret.)

Michael Wright, National Legislative Coordinator, South Carolina Farm Bureau

Additional voices may be available upon request.

Please contact Cathleen Farrell to arrange interviews.