COLUMBIA — A provision that allows local police to check the immigration status of anyone detained in South Carolina will get a second look, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that such measures are constitutional.
S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said he will file a legal brief this summer asking a federal appeals court to allow South Carolina to move ahead with that piece of its immigration law.
Wilsons pledge comes on the heels of the Supreme Courts ruling on Arizonas controversial immigration law, which was a model for South Carolina.
The Supreme Court rejected key provisions of Arizonas law but allowed the portion that required police checks of immigration status.
The courts ruling struck down a provision that required immigrants to carry registration documents, and legal experts said a similar provision in S.C. law will be tossed.
However, changes to South Carolinas law will not be immediate, because a federal lawsuit over it was put on hold, pending the Supreme Courts decision. Lawyers on both sides now may file briefs supporting their positions to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Under the S.C. law, police only can check the immigration status of someone they have detained for another violation, such as speeding.
In December, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel blocked three pieces of South Carolinas immigration law, including its mandatory police checks and the registration requirement.
A third section blocked by Gergel would make it a crime to harbor or transport an illegal immigrant. That issue was not addressed by the Supreme Court.
Immigration cant be only charge
Both sides of the immigration debate claimed victory Monday, finding something to celebrate in the decision.
Some on the other side were claiming victory, but not when the court struck down three of your four provisions, said Tammy Besherse, an attorney for the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center who is an advocate for immigrants.
Gov. Nikki Haleys office released a statement calling the ruling in part good news for South Carolina law enforcement.
Now, they can do their job and verify that those suspected of being here illegally are actually here legally, the statement said.
However, the Supreme Courts decision to allow local police checks came with a warning, and it opened the door for lawsuits claiming civil rights violations.
In an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court was clear that police could not detain a suspect solely to verify immigration status. It also used case law to illustrate its point that police could not hold a person for an unreasonable amount of time as they determine immigration status, Besherse said.
That was a warning, Besherse said. Police are going to have to be extremely careful in how they apply it. Theres a good chance a line could be crossed.
But Andre Segura, an ACLU attorney who argued against S.C. law in federal court, said South Carolinas law is written so that once police detain a person, they can hold him as long as necessary to determine legal status.
Michelle Lapointe, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center who represented clients in the suit against South Carolina, said the door has been opened for civil rights lawsuits.
Wilson acknowledged the courts warning about civil rights violations but said the state cannot afford to wait on the federal government to create more effective immigration laws.
When S.C. lawmakers wrote the immigration legislation, they said it was necessary because federal government was failing to control illegal immigration.
Theyre failing to address it, and now theyre telling the state, We dont want you to, either, Wilson said.
With local police able to help the federal government enforce immigration laws, there will be fewer excuses for failures, Wilson said.
The government owns the failure to enforce immigration law, he said.