03/03/2014

SPLC victory in South Carolina: Key provisions of state anti-immigrant law blocked

Major provisions of South Carolina’s vicious anti-immigrant law will be permanently blocked as part of a settlement announced today.

The settlement, which is pending federal court review, will end the last of the three lawsuits the SPLC brought against Southern states that enacted harsh anti-immigrant laws encouraging racial profiling. Key provisions of those states’ laws were blocked as well.

“Today is a victory for the brave community members who challenged this law and for all South Carolinians,” said Michelle Lapointe, SPLC staff attorney, who worked with a coalition of civil rights groups to challenge the law.

“Three years ago, South Carolina became one of several Southern states that attempted to legislate away people’s constitutional rights,” Lapointe said. “We are glad that the most egregious portions of this mean-spirited law will be permanently blocked. We will remain vigilant and take action if immigration enforcement violates civil rights.”

A provision that allows law enforcement officers to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops raised concerns about whether it would lead to racial profiling. The settlement creates strict guidance for this provision and includes a formal opinion from South Carolina’s attorney general noting that law enforcement officers cannot continue to hold someone for the purpose of checking their immigration status or transfer them to federal custody for that purpose, if the underlying cause for the officer’s stop – such as writing a speeding ticket – has ended.

The proposed settlement will permanently block provisions that criminalize routine interactions with undocumented immigrants. It also will block enforcement of a provision that would have imposed criminal penalties on those who fail to carry immigration documents. The U.S. Department of Justice, which also challenged the law, joined the agreement.

The SPLC lawsuit, filed in October 2011, charged that the law, also known as SB 20, subjected South Carolinians – including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to unlawful search and seizure and interfered with federal authority over immigration matters. It described, among other provisions, how the law criminalized South Carolinians for everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church or renting a room to a friend.

The coalition that filed the lawsuit also included the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of South Carolina, 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.