Hilton Head In Middle Of Illegal Immigration Debate

by | Dec 21, 2006

Miriam Jordan, a Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reporter published a feature last week on illegal immigration’s adverse effects for entrepreneurs. The story takes place on Hilton Head Island, which is why I’m featuring it here.

About five years ago, the journey of Starletta and William Hairston from the underclass to the upper class hit a roadblock.


Both were born to poor black Southern families. William, a stucco subcontractor, built a thriving business beautifying houses in the gated communities on this resort island, a magnet for wealthy retirees seeking a laid-back lifestyle by the sea. Starletta, a former flight attendant, won accolades for her community activism.

Then Hilton Head suddenly saw a wave of illegal immigrant workers from Mexico. Mr. Hairston, 54 years old, initially hired the Hispanic newcomers for his stucco business, helping it flourish. But soon, some of those same workers splintered off to form their own businesses, undercutting Mr. Hairston with lower bids to capture jobs.

The Hairstons’ saga shows that the issue is not just about low-paid workers, but also entrepreneurs who set out to make their own fortune.

William Hairston has since moved his business to North Carolina. Meanwhile, his wife, Starletta Hairston is a Beaufort County Council member actively working to stem the tide of illegal immigrants in the county. Naturally, the business community opposes the actions, for it would place hardships on construction companies and the service sector.

The two sides hammered out a compromise known as the “Lawful Employment Ordinance.” Final vote on the ordinance takes place at a special meeting of the council on December 27th, just days before six new council members will be sworn in on Jan. 2.