South Carolina’s Gov. Nikki Haley Makes Good on Anti-Immigrant Promises

While similar laws are temporarily blocked in other states, South Carolina presses forward with their SB 1070 copycat bill.

By Asraa Mustufa Jun 30, 2011

South Carolina became the latest state to enact harsh immigration legislation, after Gov. Nikki Haley signed off on a bill modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070 this week. A coalition of civil rights groups plan to file a lawsuit challenging the bill ahead of its implementation, scheduled for January 1.

Republican lawmakers vilified the undocumented immigrants the bill targets during a news conference. "They cling together in illegal communities and bring with them drugs, prostitution, violent crimes, gang activity," state Sen. Larry Grooms said.

Like SB 1070, the bill requires police to check the immigration status of any person whom they suspect of being undocumented when that person is arrested or stopped for any other reason. It also makes it a misdemeanor for any adult in the state to not carry official identification, like a driver’s license or immigration document, while traveling in South Carolina, and further makes it a felony to provide or sell fake photo IDs for undocumented immigrants. Businesses in South Carolina must also check the citizenship status of employees and job applicants using the federal E-verify database.

Opponents of the law say it mandates racial profiling, and several other constitutional violations.

"It’s hard to imagine what would give an officer such suspicion other than a person’s appearance, national origin, or ability to speak English, which are unconstitutional factors for an officer to apply in those situations, and which will disproportionately affect communities of color, immigrant communities, and individuals who might appear to be foreign to an officer," said Andre Segura, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Local law enforcement from around the country have objected to similar anti-immigrant bills, saying that it would be difficult to implement. Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, also said that the law will prevent police from getting cooperation from victims of crimes, or people who have information about crimes. "All the work they’ve done to build trust in the immigrant community will be jeopardized by this law," Middleton said.

Segura said that the bill violates the Fourth Amendment by mandating prolonged detention for non-criminal activity like speeding or jaywalking, which would not normally result in a criminal arrest.  Federal law says that being undocumented is a civil immigration violation, and not usually enforceable by local police. 

Like the Department of Justice, civil rights groups also argue that these anti-immigrant bills violate the supremacy clause since only the federal government has the constitutional right to create and enforce immigration law. Proponents of the bills argue that the federal government has failed to do so.

"If Washington refuses to effectively support our law enforcement officers by enforcing immigration laws, it is left up to the states to stand up and do what is right," House Speaker Bobby Harrell said. "That is exactly what South Carolina did today by making sure our officers have the enforcement tools they need during this time of federal indecision."

It comes as little surprise that Haley would endorse the bill. Although Haley, the first non-white and first female governor of South Carolina, is the daughter of Indian immigrants, she has long taken a hard-line stance on immigration issues. In a 2010 campaign video, she praised Arizona’s immigration policies, and said she co-sponsored an SB 1070 copycat bill in South Carolina as a state senator. She also cited a 2008 anti-immigrant South Carolina law, which was then viewed as one of the country’s harshest immigration legislation, saying it was unenforceable absent funding. The bill signed late Monday creates a $1.3 million Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit, although opponents say that it would cost the state close to $84 million to implement the law.

South Carolina’s newly enacted immigration bill comes amid a series of injunctions against similar laws in Georgia, Utah, and Indiana by federal judges, blocking portions from implementation. Civil rights groups are also filing suit against Alabama’s anti-immigrant bill. Meanwhile, Arizona has until July 11 to file an appeal against their injunction to the Supreme Court, as Gov. Jan Brewer announced they would do last month.