Portions of Embattled SC Immigration Reform Bill Blocked
S.C. immigration reform was slated to take effect Jan. 1.
CHARLESTON — A federal court Thursday found major sections of the state's immigration reform law, which is known as S 20, were likely to be found unconstitutional, including those mandating that police demand documentation of people in virtually any lawful stop, creating a new state crime for transporting and harboring undocumented immigrants and criminalizing the failure to carry one’s documentation at all times.
Sections of the bill apply to hiring illegal immigrants and punishing those employers will still take effect Jan. 1, according to the bill's author and co-sponsor Sen. Larry Grooms.
The block is temporary and came after a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and others challenging the law as unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed in October.
The decision is being hailed as "a major blow to efforts by state lawmakers across the country pushing unconstitutional anti-immigrant legislation that threatens individual rights" by the complainants. Several demonstrations were held across the state last week to protest the bill.
According to a statement by the ACLU, 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. The bill attempted to criminalize South Carolinians for everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church, or renting a room, according to 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 in a statement. "We hope the ruling means families will not be separated and South Carolina will not be turned into a police state."
Thursday's ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take a case involving parts of Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070.
"It's disappointing," Grooms told Patch Friday. "You can easily argue that South Carolina has the toughest immigration law on the books but it doesn't do a whole lot of good if you can't enforce it. I don't believe that it's unconstitutional. Folks are stopped every day by police officers and they are asked to produce identification. To say that if someone's here illegally in the United States, for some reason, they have a special right not to have identification that rings a little false ... All the South Carolina law did was empower South Carolina law enforcement officers to detain someone who has been stopped for another violation based on reasonable suspicion."
The U.S. Department of Justice, which also challenged the immigration law, argued that the law should be blocked because it will cause irreparable harm and interfere with federal immigration law.
The coalition in the South Carolina case includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, MALDEF, ACLU of South Carolina, the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and the law firms of Rosen, Rosen & Hagood and the Lloyd Law Firm.