The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed suit [text, PDF; press release] on Monday in the US District Court for the District of South Carolina [official website] to challenge the state's newly adopted immigration law [SB 20 text]. The complaint claims that the new legislation, which allows police officers to check a suspect's immigration status during a lawful stop, seizure, detention or arrest, and requires businesses to participate in the E-Verify [official website] system, creates a patchwork of state and local immigration policies that conflict with the policies and principles of the federal government. The department is requesting an injunction barring certain portions of the state law that would take effect on January 1. Though the DOJ recognizes that South Carolina's legislation is in response to a broken federal immigration system, the suit maintains that such harsh enforcement laws are preempted by federal law [AP report] and are unconstitutional violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment [Cornell LII backgrounder]:
In our constitutional system, the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters and to conduct foreign relations. ... Although States may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens, a State may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with federal immigration laws. The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of disparate state and local immigration policies throughout the country.The DOJ claims that South Carolina's laws are similar to those passed by Arizona and Alabama [JURIST reports], which the federal government has also challenged for their interference with immigration enforcement efforts.
State responses to inadequate federal immigration law continue to create controversy. The South Carolina legislation was recently challenged [complaint, PDF] by a coalition of civil rights groups [JURIST report], including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) [advocacy websites] and others who claim it invites racial profiling and interferes with federal law. 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 [JURIST reports]. In August, the state of Arizona filed a petition for writ of certiorari [JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court 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.