Recent Developments on South Carolina’s New Immigration Law

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Recently, a federal judge blocked many provisions of South Carolina’s new immigration law from taking effect on January 1, 2012, including a requirement for law officers to check the legal status of people they pull over if officers suspect they are in the US illegally.

US District Judge Richard Gergel also blocked certain sections making it a state crime not to carry immigration documentation or for illegal immigrants to transport or house themselves.

“While the Court does not doubt the good faith of the South Carolina General Assembly in attempting to address the immigration issue, the Constitution of the US and the INA have placed the policy-making role regarding immigration in the hands of the national government,” the judge wrote. “It is clear to the Court that Congress did not intend to allow the state any further role beyond arresting persons allegedly harboring or transporting unlawfully present persons.”

The federal government had earlier sued South Carolina challenging the constitutionality of the law set to take effect on the New Year day. The federal government and civil rights groups that also includes the American Civil Liberties Union wanted to block the act of checking the immigration status of suspects pulled over by the police. One can be questioned following a stop or arrest for something else, and stops the officers from holding someone solely on that suspicion. Some were also of the view that it would encourage racial profiling.

During the hearing, the judge referred to the provision as the “traffic dragnet” and ruled that it would ultimately capture far more “low priority targets” than was necessary and leading to complicating federal immigration enforcement efforts. Previously, Gergel also denied the state’s request that the law proceed as scheduled and that he suspend all court hearings on the case until the US Supreme Court rules to Arizona’s similar law.

In addition to these, a federal appeals court turned down requests by Georgia and Alabama to delay action on challenges to their own new illegal immigration laws pending the outcome of the US Supreme Court decision. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has also requested for such a delay for their new law. According to a spokesman for South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, other sections of the law would go into effect on the New Year day. State prosecutors have said the country’s high court will most likely rule in six months or less.

The judge in his ruling, has said blocking the whole law would have phased out sections that are clearly lawful, like a requirement that all employers check their new foreign national employees’ legal status through a federal online system. Businesses found to violate the law could have their operating licenses revoked. Gergel was also not impressed on the state’s contention that the new law will help federal authorities control immigration issues.



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