Beaufort News

Some parts of SC immigration law still blocked; local coalition leader pleased

Several portions of South Carolina's immigration law are still blocked from taking effect, according to a ruling Tuesday from a federal appeals court.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling barring certain provisions from the 2011 law, including those that would make it a state crime not to carry immigration paperwork or for people in the country illegally to house or transport themselves.

Those portions, the court wrote, inappropriately criminalize activity that should be left up to the federal government to regulate.

"They make criminals out of aliens attempting to do no more than go to school, go to work, and care for their families," the court wrote.

Eric Esquivel, co-chairman of the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition based in Beaufort County, agreed with the ruling. The coalition is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the implementation of the S.C. law.

"We can't solve immigration on a state or county or city level; it just makes the problem worse," said Esquivel, who also is the publisher of La Isla magazine. "This is a federal issue, and we need to demand that they acknowledge and address it."

The new law -- modeled after similar legislation in Arizona and considered among the toughest in the nation -- has been in litigation since it passed the S.C. legislature. The federal government and civil liberties groups quickly challenged the law, saying in a 2011 lawsuit that portions, including a provision allowing police to check people's immigration status, were unconstitutional.

Esquivel said it's unwise to follow what other states have done when it comes to immigration law.

"The results in those states have been pretty negative and especially have had a negative economic impact," Esquivel said.

Some business-related parts of the law took effect in January 2012, including a requirement that businesses check new hires' legal status through a federal system. South Carolina's lawsuit was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a legal challenge to Arizona's law.

At that time, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel blocked several provisions, including the status check provision, as well as policies that would make it a state crime not to carry immigration paperwork or for people who are in the country illegally to transport or house themselves.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled much of the Arizona law unconstitutional -- but kept the status check provision in place -- Gergel revised his ruling, allowing a similar portion of South Carolina's law to take effect but continuing to block the paperwork and transportation provisions.

S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson asked the 4th Circuit to review that decision, which the higher court upheld Tuesday. His office said he was studying the decision and reviewing his options.

Esquivel said it's time to stop the appeals.

"The question I pose is, how many times does our state attorney general need to try to enforce the unenforcable?" Esquivel asked. "Continuing to push this is a waste of our taxpayers' time and money on a decision that has already been decided and blocked twice."

The Associated Press and Packet/Gazette staff writer Sarah Bowman contributed.

Keywords: immigration, immigration law, illegal aliens, Alan Wilson, Richard Gergel, Supreme Court, litigation

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SC immigration law to return to judge, November 12, 2012