South Carolina, rights groups settle
immigration law challenge
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[March 04, 2014]
By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) — In
a victory for immigrant rights supporters, South Carolina said on Monday
it would no longer defend a key part of a 2011 law that required police
to check the immigration status of people during stops.
State officials and a coalition of immigrant rights groups have
agreed to settle a legal dispute over the law centering on its "show
me your papers" section.
In court documents filed on Monday in federal court in Charleston,
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said the state
interprets the provision to mean that police cannot detain someone
solely to check their papers after the original reason for the stop
South Carolina's law also does not allow police to jail a person
simply to determine the person's immigration status or to arrest a
person believed to be in the country unlawfully, state Solicitor
General Robert D. Cook wrote in a letter to Judge Richard M. Gergel.
"This opinion is very helpful to limit that kind of police
misconduct," said Andre Segura, a staff attorney with the
Immigrants' Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The project had asked the state to clarify what police officers
could and could not do.
The U.S. Justice Department announced on Monday that it had joined
the South Carolina agreement.
Judge Gergel's block of key parts of South Carolina's immigration
law, including the "show me your papers" provision, was upheld by
the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wilson said in court documents that the state disagrees with those
rulings, but that it would not continue to fight them.
Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the "show me your papers" part of
Arizona's tough immigration law was constitutional.
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South Carolina is one of five states that modeled their laws after
Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants. The others are Alabama,
Georgia, Indiana and Utah.
Alabama reached a similar agreement last year with those who sued
over its immigration law.
Court cases are in progress in Arizona to clarify the state
immigration law, and in Utah, where the law remains blocked by a
judge, Segura said.
"We've definitely noticed a sea change from three years ago when
states were tripping over themselves trying to pass more divisive
immigration laws," Segura said. "Since 2011, no state or local
jurisdiction has passed an anti-immigrant law."
"There's been a big wave of pro-immigrant issues," he said. "In
2013, we saw a slew of states granting driver's licenses (to
immigrants) and granting in-state tuition (to immigrants)."
(Editing by David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)
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