South Carolina’s top legal officer is responding to a federal lawsuit that accuses South Carolina’s new immigration law of violating the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Justice Department is asking a judge to stop South Carolina’s law from going into effect. The agency filed an injunction Monday arguing the law is unconstitutional and interferes with the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration rules.
Among other things, the new law allows police to check a person’s immigration status after an arrest or traffic stop. It also requires law enforcement to report anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally to federal immigration officials. Portions of the law would take effect next year.
The Justice Department says states cannot enforce immigration laws on their own.
But state officials disputed that. “It doesn’t attempt to take away from the federal government or pre-empt the federal government,” South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson told Fox News on Tuesday, “We just want to do our part. And that’s what this law does. It gives local law enforcement the tools necessary to help the feds do their job.”
The Justice Department says the new law adds an extra burden to immigrations officials and takes priority away from other crimes, such as gangs and drug smuggling. “A state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interfere with federal immigration law,” the agency’s Civil Division director Tony West said in a conference call with reporters Monday, “Because South Carolina’s law does precisely that, it crosses a constitutional line.”
Wilson disputed that. “We’re simply creating a mechanism at the state level that will give them more resources,” he said. “I don’t understand the argument… when we’re actually giving them boots on the ground in the respective states.”
Civil rights groups are afraid the law will lead to racial profiling against Hispanics. The ACLU and other groups have already sued the state saying the law’s requirements violate due process rights.
The Justice Department has also sued Arizona and Alabama over controversial immigration laws. In each case (both of which are still in the appeals process), federal judges blocked some sections of the laws while keeping others.