Federal Court Blocks Major Parts of SB 20

December 22, 2011

Adela de la Torre, NILC, (213) 674-2832; [email protected]

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

Decision is a Setback Against National Effort to Pass Anti-Immigrant Laws

CHARLESTON, S.C. – A federal district court today blocked major parts of South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law from going into effect Jan. 1 after a civil rights coalition recently argued the law is unconstitutional, interferes with federal laws, and would cause great harm if implemented.

The court determined that major sections of the law, SB 20, are likely to be held unconstitutional, including those provisions that mandate that police demand “papers” in virtually all traffic stops, that make it a crime to transport and harbor undocumented immigrants, and that criminalize the failure to carry ‘papers’ at all times.

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

Today’s ruling comes weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take a case involving parts of Arizona’s notorious anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. The coalition has pressed to continue hearings over similar laws in South Carolina, Alabama, and other states because these cases involve claims that are not before the Supreme Court, and because these states’ laws will cause severe harms if they are allowed to take effect. 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, farmers and other businesses have lost untold amounts in revenues despite a federal judge’s ruling that blocked major parts of its anti-immigrant law.

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.”

Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who argued the case in court on Monday of this 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.”

“This decision provides a great deal of hope to the large numbers of South Carolinians -citizens and non citizens alike- who would be impacted by this clearly overreaching and unconstitutional law,” said Michelle Lapointe, lead attorney on the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “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.”

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.”

Tammy Besherse, staff attorney with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, said: “South Carolina’s families will have something to truly celebrate this holiday season, thanks to a ruling that will keep families together and make our communities safer. Today’s ruling is a victory for all those who believe in family unity and community safety.”

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. The law attempted to 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. 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 now scheduled for February.

The coalition in the South Carolina case includes the National Immigration Law Center, ACLU, MALDEF, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 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.

To learn more about the case and read the decision issued today in both the civil rights coalition’s and Department of Justice’s cases, the complaint, as well as the motion for preliminary injunction, go to: https://nilc.org/sb20.html.

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Read decision (updated 12/22/11)