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Stopping South Carolina from Sharing Alabama's Fate

Cecillia Wang,
Deputy Legal Director,
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December 19, 2011

The fate of civil liberties in South Carolina will be decided by year’s end. Today, a coalition of South Carolinians and civil rights organizations went to federal district court in Charleston to stop the last anti-immigrant law passed this year.

Like its shameful predecessors, Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56, South Carolina’s law would turn police officers and sheriff’s deputies into roving immigration agents who are authorized to demand papers from anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant.

If the federal court does not freeze this shameful law, South Carolina’s SB 20 will go into effect on New Year’s Day. No lawyer worth her salt dares to predict what a court will do, but it was clear that the judge was well prepared and took seriously the potential harms if the law were to go into effect. He referred to one section of the law as creating a “traffic dragnet” and pointed out that under South Carolina’s law, a torture victim who has applied for asylum could be arrested on the way to the grocery store, simply for not having a document that proves his right to be in this country.

We’ve seen what happens when such a police regime swings into action. In Alabama, where a federal court permitted some similar provisions to go into effect, the state has been shamed by the high-profile arrests of lawfully present immigrants like a Mercedes-Benz executive. Immigrant families have fled the state in droves, taking the legislature’s cruel message that they are not welcome. As a result, schools have emptied, crops have rotted in the fields and construction sites are now silent. Our civil rights coalition and the U.S. Department of Justice are working through separate lawsuits to make sure this fate doesn’t befall South Carolina.

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