The Buzz

March 3, 2014

POLITICS: SC agrees to settle lawsuits over immigration law

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

South Carolina reached a tentative agreement to not allow police to hold people while checking to see if they are living in the country illegally, immigration rights groups announced Monday.

Police can still ask people for documents to prove citizenship under the 2011 law but not being able to detain them while checking records "defangs" enforcement, said Karen Tumlin, managing attorney at the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center, one of the plaintiffs.

"It's unconstitutional and bad policy, and the state realized it's more of a headache than its worth," Tumlin said.

South Carolina's law was modeled after one in Arizona. Similar laws have been passed in Alabama, Georgia and Utah, though they are not enforced fully in some states after court rulings, Tumlin said.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson's office disagreed with rulings that have overruled some parts of the immigration laws, according to a court filing Monday, but chose to stop fighting the case.

A number of immigration rights groups and the federal government sued South Carolina to stop the law. A temporary injunction was ordered.

A S.C. attorney general's opinion included in the proposed settlement Monday said the law does not:

• “Permit officers to prolong the original stop based upon the officer’s inquiry into or based on a determination, suspicion, or admission concerning a person’s immigration status.”
• Allow prolonging "the detention of a person in jail or prison simply to determine the person’s immigration status.”
• “Authorize state and local officials to arrest or maintain custody of an individual believed or determined to be unlawfully present for any purpose, even to transfer the individual to federal custody.”

The National Immigration Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the class action suit against that named Gov. Nikki Haley, who signed the bill into law, as the defendant.

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