Judge Blocks Parts of South Carolina Immigration Law

A U.S. District Court judge recently blocked key provisions of South Carolina’s tough immigration law less than two weeks before it was scheduled to take effect.

In making his ruling, Judge Richard Gergel privileged the federal government’s authority in matters pertaining to U.S. immigration.

Gergel blocked a provision in South Carolina’s law that would allow police officers to request proof of citizenship status from anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Referring to this provision, he wrote, “State-mandated scrutiny is without consideration of federal enforcement policies and unquestionably vastly expands the persons targeted for immigration enforcement action.”

The judge’s decision was not necessarily unexpected, given remarks he made during oral arguments in the case on December 19. Gergel indicated he was seriously weighing a brief submitted by Assistant Secretary of State William Burns, who said that hard-line immigration laws such as the one in South Carolina complicated U.S. diplomacy by antagonizing foreign countries, such as Mexico.

Gergel also granted an injunction against the law’s criminalization of harboring or transporting a known illegal immigrant, and he blocked a provision requiring immigrants to carry alien registration documents at all times.

The U.S. Department of Justice – which, in concert with civil rights groups, sought the injunction against the South Carolina law – previously won injunctions against similar laws in other states, including Arizona. Responding to Gergel’s ruling, Rob Godfrey, a spokesperson for South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, referred to the upcoming Supreme Court case regarding Arizona’s law.

“Governor Haley is hopeful that the U.S. Supreme Court will soon do what Congress and the executive branch have failed to do,” Godfrey said, “which is allow the states to pick up the slack where Washington has failed.”

Gergel’s ruling can be seen as another setback for Haley, who recently came under scrutiny for withholding potentially damaging documents requested by members of the press under the Freedom of Information Act.