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Different State, Same Hate

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Department of Justice steps in to block South Carolina's anti-immigrant law

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against South Carolina to block the implementation of SB 20, a divisive and dangerous anti-immigrant law signed by Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) earlier this year. If SB 20 does take effect on Jan. 1, 2012, the law will create a new $1.3 million immigration enforcement unit for South Carolina and provide local law enforcement with overly broad authority to investigate residents' immigration statuses. As NCLR (National Council of La Raza) has repeatedly pointed out in the past, when other states attempted to pass similar bills, these anti-immigrant laws not only promote racial profiling and discrimination, but also violate the Constitution.

Thankfully the DOJ has stepped in once again, filing a lawsuit which argues that the law could lead to harassment and discrimination, would place unnecessary burdens on federal agencies, and would interfere with the federal government's authority to set and enforce immigration policy. The DOJ's involvement in this case should be yet another indication that the administration will not sit idly by while state legislators overstep their boundaries and attempt to enact laws that wreak havoc on their own states' economies and violate the civil rights of their citizens.

SB 20 is quite simply not a legitimate solution to fix the immigration problem and will ultimately do South Carolina more harm than help; just look at its predecessors. When Arizona passed SB 1070, it inspired a boycott that cost the state $750 million. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association recently estimated $140 million in losses attributed to labor shortage and estimates on agricultural losses in the state could top $1 billion from their law, HB 87. Likewise, Alabama's HB 56 has certainly succeeded in driving out immigrants, who many are now realizing are crucial to its economy, particularly in the farming and construction industries. In fact, South Carolina's farmers have already expressed their mounting concern over potential labor shortages that they could face as a result of an immigrant exodus.

The courts have repeatedly blocked enforcement provisions in many anti-immigrant laws proposed in other states. It is illogical and unnecessarily costly for the South Carolina legislature to push a bill that exploits legitimate frustration with the broken immigration system, but fails to deliver rational policy solutions. We hope that the courts will grant this injunction and reaffirm what we know to be true--that the power to fix our immigration system lies in the hands of Congress.

NCLR is equally frustrated with the lack of movement at the federal level on this issue. But that frustration should not give state legislators permission to overstep their legal boundaries and pass irresponsible laws that jeopardize the security of their citizens and violate Americans' civil rights. We have to put pressure on our leaders in Congress to focus on the real issues and create viable solutions to fix our nation's broken immigration system at the federal level.

This was first posted to the NCLR Blog.