COLUMBIA, S.C. - A federal judge on Thursday blocked several provisions of South Carolina's tough new immigration law from taking effect New Year's Day, including a requirement for law officers to check the immigration status of people they pull over if officers suspect they are in the country illegally.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel's ruling also blocked sections making it a state crime not to carry immigration paperwork or for illegal immigrants to transport or house themselves.
"While the Court does not doubt the good faith of the South Carolina General Assembly in attempting to address the immigration issue, the Constitution of the United States and the (Immigration and Nationality Act) have placed the policy-making role regarding immigration in the hands of the national government," the judge wrote. "It is clear to the Court that Congress did not intend to allow the state any further role beyond arresting persons allegedly harboring or transporting unlawfully present persons."
The federal government sued South Carolina earlier this year, challenging the constitutionality of the law set to take effect Jan. 1.
Both the federal government and civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union wanted to block the measure on checking the status of suspects pulled over by police. The questioning must follow a stop or arrest for something else, and the measure bars officers from holding someone solely on that suspicion. Opponents said it would encourage racial profiling.
During a hearing Monday in Charleston, the judge repeatedly referred to the provision as the "traffic dragnet" and he wrote in his ruling that it would ultimately ensnare far more "low priority targets" than was necessary and end up complicating federal immigration enforcement efforts.
Also Thursday, a federal appeals court denied requests by Georgia and Alabama to delay action on legal challenges to their own new illegal immigration laws pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.