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Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, et al. v. Nikki Haley, et al.

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South Carolina passed an extreme anti-immigrant law in 2011.

The law required police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops when they have “reasonable suspicion” that a person is an undocumented immigrant. It also criminalized everyday interactions with undocumented immigrants, such as providing transportation or renting a room to an undocumented immigrant.

The SPLC joined a coalition of civil rights groups in filing a federal class action lawsuit challenging the law as an unconstitutional measure that encourages racial profiling. It charged that the law, SB 20, subjects South Carolinians – including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to unlawful search and seizure and interferes with the federal government’s authority over immigration matters.

A settlement reached in 2014 blocked major provisions of the law. 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.

South Carolina’s law was inspired by an anti-immigrant law passed by Arizona in 2010. Alabama and Georgia also passed similar anti-immigrant laws in 2011, both of which were challenged by the SPLC in federal court. Major provisions of those laws were ultimately blocked.

The coalition that filed the lawsuit 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.