A coalition of civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block South Carolina's recently passed immigration law [SB 20 text]. Brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites] and other civil rights groups, the class action suit [complaint, PDF] claims the new legislation is unconstitutional, inviting racial profiling and interfering with federal law. The immigration law allows police officers to check a suspect's immigration status during a lawful stop, seizure, detention or arrest, and mandates businesses to participate in the E-Verify [official website] system to check the citizenship status of employees and job applicants. Penalties for knowingly employing illegal immigrants include suspension and revocation of a state business license. Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina [advocacy website], criticized the legislation [ACLU press release] as the lawsuit was filed:
By requiring local law enforcement officials to act as immigration agents, this law invites discrimination against anyone who looks or sounds "foreign," including American citizens and legal residents. It will make criminals out of good Samaritans, harm victims of crime and abuse, hamper police in preventing and solving crimes, and create a climate of fear and prejudice in South Carolina.The five-count complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against SB 20 as an unlawful contravention of federal immigration law under the Supremacy Clause, an infringement of rights against unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and an unconstitutional deprivation of individual liberties under both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounders].
The US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama [official website] denied similar motions for injunction against that state's recently passed immigration law last week and last month [JURIST reports]. In August, the state of Arizona filed a petition for writ of certiorari [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court [official website] seeking to overturn a lower court decision enjoining four provisions of Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], on which the South Carolina and Alabama legislation is modeled. Several other state legislatures have also acted recently to implement so-called "Arizona style" immigration laws. The North Carolina House of Representatives [official website] voted [JURIST report] in June to pass a bill [HB 36 text, PDF] requiring all employers with 25 or more employees to check the immigration status of their hires using the E-Verify system. In April, the Indiana House of Representatives [official website] voted [JURIST report] 64-32 to approve a bill [Amended SB 590 text] considered to be a "watered-down" version of the Arizona bill. Virginia, Oklahoma and Utah [JURIST reports] have all approved Arizona-style immigration bills within the past year.