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USA Challenges South Carolina Immigration Law

CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) - The United States sued South Carolina stop enforcement of four sections of the state's new immigration law, which the Justice Department calls a "rigid approach of universal, undifferentiated enforcement" that violates the Constitution's Supremacy Clause.

South Carolina's Act No. 69, is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

The Justice Department says it's unconstitutional and therefore null and void.

In its federal complaint, Uncle Sam accuses the state and co-defendant Gov. Nikki Haley of interfering with federal immigration laws, noting that "the Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of disparate state and local immigration policies throughout the country."

The complaint continues: "Despite the preeminent federal authority and responsibility over immigration and foreign relations, the State of South Carolina recently enacted Act No. 69, which addresses multiple aspects of immigration regulation and enforcement. The provisions of Act No. 69, working individually and in concert, seek to punish unlawful entry and presence of aliens such as by requiring, whenever practicable, a determination of immigration status during any lawful stop, detention, investigation, or arrest by the police where there is 'reasonable suspicion' that an individual is unlawfully present, and by establishing new state criminal sanctions against unlawfully present aliens. The mandate to enforce Act No. 69 is reinforced by a provision allowing a resident of any political subdivision of South Carolina to file suit against any such subdivision that enacts 'any ordinance or policy

that intentionally limits or prohibits a law enforcement officer, local official, or local government employee from seeking to enforce a state law with regard to immigration' (Section 1). Any political subdivision held liable under this provision faces civil penalties between $1,000 and $5,000 'for each day that the enactment, action, policy, or practice remains or remained in effect.'

"Act No. 69 requires state and local officers and officials to take certain actions in

relation to aliens without regard to the objectives that Congress has established for the federal immigration system. This failure to abide by the interests animating federal immigration law provides sufficient reason that Act No. 69 is preempted. But just as importantly, even where South Carolina appears to pursue a goal of the federal system, it does so in a way that disregards federal priorities, thereby necessarily resulting in a disruption of federal enforcement and a burden on resources that focus on aliens who pose a threat to national security or public safety."

This is the latest in a series of lawsuits across the country challenging state immigration laws - a government function assigned by the Constitution to the federal government.

It comes two weeks after the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and the Service Employees International Union sued South Carolina, claiming Act 60 invites police to engage in racial profiling.

In September, a federal judge in Alabama refused to block much of a new and far-reaching immigration law in the state, a law that Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called "the strongest immigration law in this country."

In a 115-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn blocked some portions of the Alabama law, including, but not limited to, the provision that makes it illegal to harbor or transport an illegal alien, a provision that bars illegal immigrants from enrolling in public universities and the provision that would make it illegal to stop along a road and hire temporary workers.

But she let the rest of the law stand, including provisions that authorize police to conduct immigration checks during routine traffic stops, and a new system that requires public schools to check students' immigration status upon enrollment.

In July, U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash blocked parts of Georgia's new immigration law a few days before it was to take effect, but he left other provisions intact pending the outcome of a constitutional challenge.

In a statement about the South Carolina case, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said, "The lawsuit makes clear once again that the Justice Department will not hesitate to challenge a state's immigration law ... if we find that the law interferes with the federal government's enforcement of immigration.

"It is understandable that communities remain frustrated with the broken immigration system, but a patchwork of state laws is not the solution and will only create problems. We will continue to monitor the impact these laws might have on our communities and will evaluate each law to determine whether it conflicts with the federal government's enforcement responsibilities."

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano added, "DHS continues to enforce federal immigration laws in South Carolina in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens, recent border crossers, repeat and egregious immigration law violators and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor."

"This kind of legislation," she said, referring to Act No. 69, "diverts critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermines the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve, while failing to address the underlying problem: the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level."

Gov. Haley's spokesman Rob Godfrey defended Act 69 in his own statement.

"As the daughter of immigrants of who came to this country legally, Governor Haley understands that no American value is more sacred than the rule of law," Godfrey said. "That's what this is about - nothing more, nothing less. If the feds were doing their job, we wouldn't have had to address illegal immigration reform at the state level. But, until they do, we're going to keep fighting in South Carolina to be able to enforce our laws."

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