Federal Court Blocks Major Parts of South Carolina Anti-Immigrant Law

December 22, 2011 3:58 pm

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CHARLESTON, S.C. ― Major parts of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, including a provision that would have forced drivers to prove they were citizens or legal residents at virtually all traffic stops, were blocked today by a federal judge.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups recently argued that the law, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, was unconstitutional, interferes with federal laws and would cause great harm if implemented.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel also said that sections of the law, including those making it a crime to transport and harbor undocumented immigrants and criminalizing the failure to carry “papers” at all times were also likely to be found unconstitutional.

The coalition filed a lawsuit against the law in October. A hearing seeking a preliminary injunction was held Monday. The U.S. Department of Justice, which also sued South Carolina, also argued the law should be blocked because it will cause irreparable harm and interfere with federal immigration law.

“Today’s ruling blocking key provisions of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law recognizes that such legislation is unconstitutional and likely to lead to serious civil rights abuses,” said Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case in court Monday on behalf of the coalition. “We have already seen the devastating effects of a similar law in Alabama, and are pleased South Carolina will not follow the same destructive path.”

South Carolina’s law would have subjected citizens and legal residents to unlawful searches and seizures and interfered with federal power and authority over immigration, Segura said.

The law would require police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person lacks immigration status, thereby inviting racial profiling. It also attempted to criminalize South Carolinians for everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church, or renting a room, said Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina.

“The court’s ruling means this draconian law will not immediately threaten the safety of innocent people, including victims of domestic violence and human trafficking and even asylum seekers,” Middleton said. “We hope the ruling means families will not be separated, and South Carolina will not be turned into a police state.”

Today’s ruling comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take a case involving parts of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. The civil rights coalition has pressed to continue with hearings over similar laws in South Carolina, Alabama and other states because they involve claims not before the Supreme Court, and because these laws will cause severe harms if they take effect.

Federal courts have already blocked key provisions of these laws in Arizona, Indiana and Georgia. A federal court in Alabama allowed some parts of the law to take effect, leading to devastating humanitarian consequences. Members of the civil rights coalition also have a case pending against Utah’s anti-immigrant law that has been blocked pending a hearing now scheduled for February.

The coalition in the South Carolina case includes the ACLU, the ACLU of South Carolina, the National Immigration Law Center, MALDEF, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firms of Rosen, Rosen & Hagood and the Lloyd Law Firm.

To learn more about the case and read today’s decision, the complaint, as well as the motion for preliminary injunction, go to:

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