South Carolina officials have settled a more than two-year-old lawsuit over the state’s 2011 immigration law, agreeing to toss out the most controversial language of the legislation known as “Act 69.”
The section primarily dealt with whether a police officer or sheriff’s deputy could detain a person they believe is in the country illegally. The Justice Department had sued to block the law, arguing only the federal government could detain a person on immigration charges. The language has been under a federal judge’s injunction since late 2011, meaning this particular section was never implemented into law.
Several immigration and civil rights groups led by the Low Country Immigration Network also sued in 2011, claiming the law would encourage racial profiling. Those groups declared victory on Monday.
“Constitutional rights apply to all and no one is required to answer any question by state or local officials about their immigration status.” American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney Andre Segura said in a statement released by the organization.
In 2012, District Judge Richard Gergel upheld a separate section of the law that allows an officer with a reasonable suspicion to check a person’s immigration status. But Gergel kept the injunction in place against detaining that person while checking their status. The judge also allowed a non-contested section that requires businesses to check immigration backgrounds of new employees through the E-Verify system.
In a letter to Gergel on Monday, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office insisted the law was constitutional, but admitted it would likely lose the lawsuit, particularly after the Supreme Court struck down a similar Arizona law in 2012. Meanwhile, Solicitor General Robert Cook also released a list of guidelines for South Carolina law enforcement officers.
Judge Gergel will need to sign off on the agreement before it is finalized.
The law’s primary sponsor said he was “disappointed” that Attorney General Alan Wilson could not negotiate a better settlement.
“But I’m a realist. I believe that (the Attorney General) did the best he could and we’ll live with it,” State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley told South Carolina Radio Network. “It’s a win for those that support illegal immigration. It’s a win for those who disregard the rule of law. And it’s not a good day in South Carolina.”