10/12/2011

SPLC, Civil Rights Coalition Challenge South Carolina’s Anti-Immigrant Law

The Southern Poverty Law Center and a coalition of civil rights groups today launched a legal challenge to South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, charging it is unconstitutional, invites racial profiling and interferes with federal law. 

The lawsuit was filed in the wake of devastating harm caused by a similar law that went into effect two weeks ago in Alabama, where families have been afraid to leave their homes and individuals have been stopped and questioned about their immigration status.

“Over the last two weeks, South Carolina and the nation have watched the devastation caused by laws like this as families have fled Alabama, businesses have lost patrons, and a climate of fear and hate have settled over the state,” said SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer. “These are the reasons we are continuing to fight against hateful and clearly unconstitutional laws, like the one passed in South Carolina.”

The complaint charges that the law, SB 20, subjects South Carolinians – including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to unlawful search and seizure and interferes with federal authority over immigration matters. The law requires police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person lacks immigration status. It also criminalizes everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church or renting a room to a friend. The law even goes so far as to criminalize undocumented individuals who “allow” themselves to be transported or who harbor themselves.

South Carolina’s law, slated to take effect Jan. 1, was inspired by Arizona’s pernicious SB 1070. Federal courts have blocked implementation of key provisions of Arizona’s law, as well as similar laws in Indiana and Georgia. A federal judge in Alabama recently allowed key provisions of its anti-immigrant law to take effect, leading to devastating humanitarian and economic consequences throughout the state. The coalition also has a pending case against Utah’s anti-immigrant law.

 

The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of South Carolina, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the law firms of Rosen, Rosen & Hagood and the Lloyd Law Firm.

Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, said: “This lawsuit is the latest in our ongoing fight against these unconstitutional laws. In recent days, we have seen the destructive results of a similar law in Alabama, and the people of South Carolina should not face the same fate. This draconian law must be blocked, as it tramples our American values, interferes with federal laws and risks turning South Carolina into a police state.”

Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, said: “By requiring local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents, this law invites discrimination against anyone who looks or sounds ‘foreign,’ including American citizens and legal residents. It will make criminals out of good samaritans, harm victims of crime and abuse, hamper police in preventing and solving crimes, and create a climate of fear and prejudice in South Carolina.”

Victor Viramontes, MALDEF national senior counsel, said: “South Carolina's destructive law unfairly and illegally targets the Latino community with improper arrests and detentions. This anti-immigrant law also illegally interferes with the federal government's ability to have a single rule of law for immigration.

Nora Preciado, staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said: “South Carolina now shares with Arizona and Alabama the dubious distinction of fundamentally hindering daily activities not only of people of color but of all people in their states. We’re filing this lawsuit today to defend the constitutionally protected freedoms that are held in dangerous disregard by these state legislators.”

Foster Maer, attorney with the LatinoJustice PRLDEF said: “Latino immigrants continue to get unfairly blamed for all that ails our economy. This race-based demonization has no place in our post-segregation world. If unchecked, Latinos will be hunted down, subject to intensive status verifications every time they jaywalk, and become the new second-class citizenry, an outcome abhorrent to anyone mindful of our country’s past.”

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