Beaufort News

State AG to appeal immigration law ruling

The S.C. Attorney General's Office plans to appeal a federal judge's ruling keeping most of the state's tough new immigration law from taking effect.

Groups opposing the legislation say the appeal doesn't stand a chance.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that police can begin checking the immigration status of people they stop, in accordance with part of the 2011 law. However, he kept in place an earlier injunction blocking most other parts of the law.

Attorney General Alan Wilson praised the ruling as a significant victory that will allow authorities to make the state safer.

However, he wants the other parts of the law -- such as making it a state crime to transport and harbor illegal immigrants, or to possess or use counterfeit identification -- to go into effect.

The state is appealing Gergel's decision to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to documents filed last week.

Gergel ruled that the federal government, not the state, has the authority to keep track of people in the U.S. who aren't citizens.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that parts of an Arizona law are unconstitutional, tossing out provisions making it a state crime not to carry immigration papers and for illegal immigrants to transport or house themselves. South Carolina's law has similar provisions.

George Kanuck of Sun City Hilton Head, who is a member of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, doesn't think the state's appeal will work. The coalition was a plaintiff in a suit filed by the federal government against the South Carolina law,

"The Supreme Court has already ruled on it and said, 'No, you can't do those things,' " Kanuck said. "Why would the attorney general even bother with the Fourth Circuit?"

The Attorney General believes that the provisions of the South Carolina's law -- although similar -- differs from portions of the Arizona law tossed out by the high court, according to spokesman Mark Powell.

Powell said the Attorney General's office, along with the Department of Public Safety, is developing guidelines for implementing and enforcing provisions allowing police to check the immigration status of people they pull over.

At the same time, the coalition is preparing information for the Hispanic community on what papers they'll need to carry and what their rights are during a traffic stop, Kanuck said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related content: Sheriff's immigration task force could fold next year, Nov. 17, 2012

SC immigration law to return to judge, Nov. 12, 2012