Civil Rights Coalition Achieves Important Protections against South Carolina’s Anti-Immigrant Law

March 3, 2014 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

Charleston, S.C. – A civil rights coalition that challenged South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, Act 69 (also known as SB 20), announced today an agreement with the state that permanently blocks key provisions and provides strict limits on the “racial profiling” provisions of the law. The agreement was also entered into by the U.S. Department of Justice, effectively ending two consolidated lawsuits against Act 69 in the state.

The proposed settlement filed today, which is pending review by the court, will permanently block provisions that criminalize daily interactions with undocumented immigrants, similar to provisions permanently enjoined as a result of settlements in similar cases in Alabama and Georgia. The settlement also will prevent enforcement of a provision that would have imposed criminal penalties on those who fail to carry immigration documents.

A key component of the settlement agreement creates strict guidance for the provision of SB 20 mandating that police demand “papers” of those who appear foreign. The proposed settlement includes a formal opinion from the state’s Attorney General clarifying that state law does not authorize law enforcement to detain a person for any period of time to determine immigration status.

“The state has finally agreed to put to rest the most divisive provisions of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, which would have given local officials carte blanche to criminalize the lives of immigrants and those who interact with them,” said Andre Segura, attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We are especially pleased that the state has set forth clear limits on what its officers can and can’t do – officers are not permitted to prolong stops or detain individuals believed or even determined to be undocumented for any purpose. Constitutional rights apply to all and no one is required to answer any question by state or local officials about their immigration status.”

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation (ACLU); Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); The National Immigration Law Center (NILC); Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), and other civil rights groups filed the class action suit, Low Country Immigration Coalition v. Haley, in October 2011.

“After nearly three years, this ugly chapter in South Carolina’s civil rights history will finally come to a close,” said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of NILC. “Today’s settlement makes clear that South Carolinians, regardless of where they were born, can live free from fear that they will be detained by police simply to determine whether they are in this country without authorization. Other states can – and should – make such clarifications in their own laws.”

Amy Pedersen, staff attorney for MALDEF, said, “This settlement should turn South Carolina efforts spent defending a largely unconstitutional law toward ensuring that State and local officers undertake law enforcement not on the basis of individuals’ immigration status, real or perceived, but in line with our federal system of government and laws preserving freedom and individual liberties.”

The lawsuit charged that SB 20 subjected South Carolinians – including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to unlawful search and seizure and interfered with federal power and authority over immigration matters. The suit also asserted that the law unconstitutionally mandated police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is not in the country lawfully, and criminalized South Carolinians for everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church or renting a room to a friend.

“Today is a victory for the brave community members who challenged SB 20 and for all South Carolinians,” said Michelle Lapointe, Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney. “Three years ago, South Carolina became one of several southern states that attempted to legislate away people’s constitutional rights. We are glad that the most egregious portions of this mean-spirited law will be permanently blocked, and we will remain vigilant and will take action if immigration enforcement violates civil rights.”

Attorneys in the case include Segura, Cecillia Wang, Omar C. Jadwat, Justin B. Cox, Lee Gelernt and Kate Desormeau of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Tumlin, Linton Joaquin, Nora Preciado, Melissa Keaney, Nicolas Espiritu, and Alvaro Huerta of the National Immigration Law Center; Lapointe, Sam Brooke, Naomi Tsu, and Dan Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Pedersen, Victor Viramontes and Martha L. Gomez, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Foster S. Maer of LatinoJustice/PRLDEF; Tammy Besherse of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center and Susan Dunn of the ACLU Foundation of South Carolina.

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release