By Yvonne Wenger
The Post and Courier
COLUMBIA — Brian Frank thought awhile before he strung his American flag upside down on a handheld pole for a rally at the Statehouse Monday. But these are appropriate times, he decided, to send the signal of dire distress.
"Americans are going to start caring when it's too late to care," said Frank, a Gaffney man who works in manufacturing and had served as a National Guardsman and Army reservist.
The Post and Courier
'The country is in dire distress,' said Brian Frank of Gaffney, who was waving an American flag upside down Monday during a rally at the Statehouse in Columbia for reform of immigration law.
"It took a little bit of guts to show up with a flag like this, but Americans need to wake up," he said.
Frank was one of about 100 who trekked to Columbia for a rally organized by the loosely formed South Carolina Coalition on Immigration Control. It was a forum designed to push state legislators to improve their plan for addressing illegal immigration, and gave a platform to a handful of men who want Lindsey Graham's seat in the U.S. Senate.
During the rally, Freedom Fighter Radio's Jim Stachowiak from Martinez, Ga., stood on a Mexican flag while waving a sign that read "Americans First."
Stachowiak shouted "Traitor!" and "Try them for treason!" as the speakers criticized the state's elected officials. He advocates stockpiling ammunition because he fears martial law. Others called on residents to boycott businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
Roan Garcia-Quintana, executive director of the Americans Have Had Enough Coalition and one of the event's leading organizers, said politicians have bent to pressures by interest groups, specifically the S.C. Chamber of Commerce.
"They are a bunch of political cowards — I stand here to tell you that," said Garcia-Quintana, who was born in Cuba and legally emigrated to Savannah.
House and Senate negotiators will continue work today on an immigration reform package that includes 15 significant elements.
The major sticking point is worker-verification standards for private employers. Critics of the plan want the state to require employers to use a system other than the federal I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification Form. The federal government uses the form to check for bogus Social Security numbers, but that hasn't stopped the hiring of illegal workers.
One alternative to the I-9 form is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's new online database, E-Verify. Private employers in Georgia, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri must now use E-Verify.
The state Chamber, however, is worried about the reliability of E-Verify and has been vocal about the need for legislators to be mindful of the competitiveness of South Carolina businesses.
Mike Griffin, who does business as Griffin Electric in the Upstate, said honest contractors in South Carolina are hurt by businesses that undercut their bottom line by hiring illegal immigrants. That won't change, he said, unless the Legislature reworks legislation.
"South Carolina is putting up a paper tiger," said Griffin, director of the S.C. Contractors Coalition, a group of about 30 contractors who banded together about a year and half ago.
Sen. Chip Campsen, an Isle of Palms Republican, said he doesn't think it's too late for Monday's rally to help change the minds of some of his colleagues.
Campsen and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, had led the unsuccessful fight on the Senate floor last month for stricter worker verification standards. Gov. Mark Sanford, too, has urged the Legislature to give the bill more bite.
Kendra Linkowski of Summerville, said the rally was able to bring people together and highlight the issues.
"Whether the Legislature will listen, I don't know," Linkowski said.