South Carolina Agrees to Permanently Block Key Provisions In Anti-Immigrant Law


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The state of South Carolina has agreed to permanently block key provisions of an anti-immigration law that would have made life difficult for undocumented immigrants. In a settlement reached on Monday with civil rights organizations, the state agreed to soften its crackdown of undocumented immigrants based on “mere presence,” by scaling back several provisions that authorized police action on mere suspicion that a person may be undocumented.

The settlement would create strict restrictions for the “show me your papers” provision in which officers would have been able to ask suspected undocumented immigrants to demonstrate citizenship by providing an alien registration card. It also includes a formal opinion from South Carolina’s attorney general Robert Cook, who said that law enforcement officials cannot continue to hold an individual to check his or her immigration status after the original purpose “for the officer’s stop — such as writing a speeding ticket — has ended.” The settlement would also block a provision that would have “imposed criminal penalties on those who fail to carry immigration documents.” The Department of Justice joined the agreement, but a federal judge must still approve the agreement.

Amy Pedersen, staff attorney for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) said in a statement, “This settlement should turn South Carolina efforts spent defending a largely unconstitutional law toward ensuring that State and local officers undertake law enforcement not on the basis of individuals’ immigration status, real or perceived, but in line with our federal system of government and laws preserving freedom and individual liberties.”

“Today’s settlement makes clear that South Carolinians, regardless of where they were born, can live free from fear that they will be detained by police simply to determine whether they are in this country without authorization,” Karen Tumlin, managing attorney of the National Immigration Law Center, said. “Other states can – and should – make such clarifications in their own laws.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law undermined federal immigration-enforcement efforts, a decision that led to limitations in policy implementations of similarly harsh laws in at least three states.

South Carolina is the latest, and fourth, state — modeled after Arizona’s harsh anti-immigration laws — to roll back measures that expanded state enforcement of an issue that many argue should remain a federal responsibility. Alabama agreed to a similar settlement last year. On Monday, the Supreme Court also let stand two lower court decisions that blocked local ordinances from prohibiting undocumented immigrants from renting housing and prevented employers from hiring undocumented immigrants.

A federal appeals court upheld a temporary injunction against the key provisions last summer, so this settlement comes as another victory for civil rights organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, which was one of the organizations to challenge the law.

Studies find that state and local anti-immigration enforcement policies come at the price of “missing their intended targets“– instead driving out college-educated immigrants into other parts of the country.