Last week, state officials settled a lawsuit brought by immigrant rights groups fighting against the state’s harsh immigration law, Act 69 (or SB 20). The law, which was modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070, included requirements for state and local police to check the immigration status of those who they suspected were undocumented. A coalition of immigrant rights groups had filed a lawsuit in 2011 against South Carolina for its enactment and enforcement of the legislation. Many civil rights groups hailed the final ruling, with the New York Times declaring it “good news for those who have been fighting to turn back that toxic legislative tide” and “a smart retreat.”
Parts of the South Carolina law, blocked by a judge in 2011, made many day-to-day interactions with undocumented immigrants illegal. For example, it banned harbor or transport of undocumented peoples, even “something as simple as giving someone a ride home or letting them crash on your couch.” These laws posed challenges to the accompaniment work of many faith-based organizations and churches seeking to serve immigrant communities and build welcoming and inclusive communities.
The final part of the South Carolina ruling placed restrictions on the section of the law containing “show me your papers” policies. Such policies, which allow police to indefinitely stop or detain any individual under the suspicion that he or she is undocumented, regardless of crime, create communities that are unfriendly, unwelcoming, and unsafe for immigrants. They create environments of fear for both documented and undocumented immigrants, who at any moment might be subjected to racial profiling. The psychological toll of living in such conditions can lead individuals to feel isolated, alone, and unsupported by local communities. Living in constant fear, whether one is documented or undocumented, is not living with dignity.
While state officials disagree with the ruling and have announced that they won’t pursue further litigation because it would be futile and costly, the ruling is part of a recent wave of litigation and reversals of harsh state immigration laws. Of the states that passed restrictive immigration laws in 2010 and 2011, South Carolina is the fourth to limit or halt enforcement of its law.
The rejection of several parts of the South Carolina law carries two important lessons: that there is an urgent need for the federal government to move forward with immigration reform, and that so-called “show me your papers” laws are not the solution. This ruling is a good step in the direction of securing justice for immigrants, but progress cannot stop here. We must continue to pressure the House Republican leadership to bring immigration reform up for a vote. South Carolina is one of the priority states where LIRS is mobilizing Lutherans to support the passage of compassionate immigration reform.
This victory is a testament to the power of individuals and communities who stand up for migrant rights at the local level. The movement to fully support the rights of migrants and refugees is alive and well across the country, but it can only continue if we continue to act. For more information and action opportunities around immigration reform, please visit our Action Center.