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

A federal district court today temporarily blocked major parts of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies challenging the law as unconstitutional.

A federal district court today temporarily blocked major parts of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and its allies challenging the law as unconstitutional.

The decision, which blocks the law from taking effect Jan. 1, is a major blow to efforts by state lawmakers across the country pushing unconstitutional anti-immigrant legislation that threatens individual rights.

The court found that major sections of the law, which is known as SB 20, were likely to be found unconstitutional, including those mandating that police demand “papers” 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 “papers” at all times.
”This decision provides a great deal of hope to the large numbers of South Carolinians – citizens and noncitizens alike – who would be impacted by this clearly overreaching and unconstitutional law,” said Michelle Lapointe, lead attorney on the case for the SPLC. “It’s also another major blow to the national effort to pass these fundamentally un-American laws that are based on little more than ignorance and hate.”

Today’s ruling comes after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take a case involving parts of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. It also comes on the heels of Alabama state leaders – including the governor and attorney general – acknowledging that Alabama’s law has major flaws. That law also sparked a backlash from the state’s business and economic leaders.

In South Carolina’s neighboring state of Georgia, despite a federal judge’s ruling that blocked major parts of its anti-immigrant law, farmers have lost billions as a labor shortage has left crops rotting in the fields. Other businesses have lost untold amounts of revenue.

The SPLC and its allies have pressed for judicial consideration of related laws in South Carolina, Alabama and other states to continue because these cases involve claims that are not before the Supreme Court. These states’ anti-immigrant laws also will cause severe harm if they are allowed to take effect.

The SPLC’s coalition filed its federal lawsuit against South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law in October. A court hearing regarding the coalition’s motion for preliminary injunction – which sought to temporarily block the law before a final ruling on its constitutionality – was held on Dec. 19. The U.S. Department of Justice, which also challenged the anti-immigrant law, argued that the law should be blocked because it will cause irreparable harm and interfere with federal immigration law.

South Carolina’s law would have subjected South Carolinians, including U.S. citizens and legal residents, to unlawful searches and seizures and interfered with federal power and authority over immigration. It also attempted to criminalize South Carolinians for everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church, or renting a room to a friend.
Arizona’s SB 1070 inspired South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law, as well as similar laws in Georgia, Alabama, Utah and Indiana. 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.

Other provisions of the Alabama law have been blocked by the courts. Members of the civil rights coalition also have a pending case against Utah’s anti-immigrant law, which the court temporarily blocked pending a hearing scheduled for February.
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.

Officials from other coalition members issued the following statements:

Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case in court last week on behalf of the coalition, said: “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. 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."  

Nora Preciado, staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, said: “Today’s decision rightly prevents SB 20 from unconstitutionally depriving all South Carolinians of their rights and dignity. We, along with our plaintiffs – and the thousands of people they represent – will not rest until this law is permanently stopped. Next year’s legislature should work to find solutions to bring the South Carolina’s communities together, not tear them apart.”  

Victor Viramontes, MALDEF national senior counsel, said: "Like similar laws across the county, South Carolina's anti-immigrant law has been blocked because it violates the Constitution. We are pleased that the people of South Carolina will not be subjected to this destructive, racially polarizing law."  

Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, said: "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. We hope the ruling means families will not be separated and South Carolina will not be turned into a police state.”  

Diana Sen, senior counsel for LatinoJustice, said: “Today’s decision is a victory for everyone in South Carolina.  The court upheld the constitutional mandate that states cannot regulate immigration by trying to expel undocumented immigrants. Latinos, the target of SB 20, can now go about their lives without the fear of arbitrary arrest and detention simply because they look Hispanic.”