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4th Circuit blocks South Carolina immigration discrimination law

Our neighbor to the south continues to have trouble enforcing its 2011 law that made it a crime for immigrants to go about their lives without carrying copies of their visas, green cards or citizenship documents, among other things. A federal trial court enjoined the state from enforcing the discriminatory immigration law in 2011, and the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has just upheld that injunction.

The law, called the Illegal Immigration Reform Act but often called SB 20, was first passed 2008. Then, lawmakers decided to amend the law to include many of the same provisions found in Arizona’s divisive immigration law. The amended version was passed in June 2011 by a GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by Republican governor Nikki Haley.

The federal courts have blocked two of the more controversial parts of the law: the requirement for immigrants to carry their papers, and the criminalization of providing any assistance to an immigrant that “furthers illegal presence.”

This is positive news for North Carolina residents who may work or travel through South Carolina. However, a number of the law’s provisions, including some that openly discriminate against apparent immigrants, are allowed and have already begun to be enforced.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re heading to South Carolina for any reason:

First, the notorious “show me your papers” requirement is in force. This provision requires law enforcement officers involved in traffic stops to ask about immigration status whenever they have reasonable suspicion someone in the car is unauthorized or may have violated immigration law. Jails must also make a reasonable effort to verify inmates’ immigration status through the Homeland Security Law Enforcement Support Center or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However:

  • No one in the car can be required to answer these questions or to present their immigration papers (and immigrants should never offer false papers or the risk arrest).
  • Officers are not allowed to stop, hold or arrest anyone merely to verify immigration status. 
  • Officers cannot arrest anyone for being undocumented.
  • If the immigration verification process would extend the length of the traffic stop and no arrest is otherwise made, officers are required to let the individuals go.

As of late January, according to the ACLU, the state had already set up the SC Illegal Immigration Enforcement Unit, although no officers in the unit had received the required training, and not a single member of the unit was actually authorized to determine an immigrant’s legal status.


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