The U.S. Justice Department is suing to stop South Carolina’s new illegal immigration law from going into effect. The federal agency is asking a judge to stop the law passed earlier this year.
Federal officials say South Carolina’s law, which gives police the power to check a person’s immigration status, violates a person’s right to due process. Police could only do the check if they arrest or stop the suspect for another reason. The ACLU and other civil rights groups have already sued to stop the law, saying it will lead to racial profiling.
Tony West heads the Justice Department’s Civil Division– the office responsible for federal lawsuits. He says only the federal government has the power to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. “A state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interfere with federal immigration law,” he said in a conference call with reporters Monday, “Because South Carolina’s law does precisely that, it crosses a constitutional line.”
However, state officials like Governor Nikki Haley say they are only taking action because the federal government is not doing its job enforcing the law. “As the daughter of immigrants who came to this country legally, Gov. Haley understands that no American value is more sacred than the rule of law,” her office said in a statement, “That’s what this is about – nothing more, nothing less.”
The Justice Department filed the suit Monday. A spokesman for South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office could not comment because it had not yet received the complaint.
The ACLU lawsuit was filed on Oct 12, but a judge at the time ruled it the federal government might be a “required party” before the suit could move forward. That deadline was due to expire on Monday.
Wilson met with U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles last week to explain the law. Neither side would say what was discussed, although Wilson’s office said it was cordial.