Civil Rights Groups Challenge Copycat Anti-Immigration Law in South Carolina

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed controversial anti-immigration bill, S.B. 20, into law yesterday. S.B. 20 states that if a law enforcement officer stops, detains, arrests, or investigates someone for a criminal offense and develops a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is not in the United States legally, the officer must ask for proof of citizenship in the form of identification or documentation.

Following the passage of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 in April 2010, nearly half of the nation’s state legislatures considered similar measures. However, amid growing concern about the associated costs and growing public opposition—from the business community, law enforcement officials, and civil rights, faith, labor, and social justice organizations—many of these bills have suffered setback or defeat. South Carolina is only the fifth state to enact an S.B. 1070 copycat law.

“S.B. 1070 and its progeny offer false solutions that come attached with a host of negative consequences for states. They encourage racial profiling, add millions of dollars to the cost of law enforcement, demonize entire communities, make states vulnerable to expensive legal battles, and put an unconscionably high price on human dignity,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

In addition to the “reasonable suspicion” clause, South Carolina’s law mandates the creation of the state’s own immigration enforcement agency and requires that employers check the immigration status of new hires using the federal E-Verify system. More than 80 faith, business and community groups had signed a letter to Gov. Haley urging her to veto the bill

The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of South Carolina and a coalition of civil rights groups have announced that they will challenge the law in federal court. The ACLU is also involved in challenging the constitutionality of recent anti-immigration laws passed in Georgia and Alabama.

“The universal failure of these laws in the courts is a stinging rebuke to state lawmakers who have pushed laws that would threaten all of our freedoms in order to express their hostility to immigrants and immigration,” said Omar Jadwat, an attorney at the ACLU.