COLUMBIA, S.C. – Once again, the Service Employees have joined a private lawsuit, and supported an Obama administration lawsuit, challenging anti-immigrant, laws in a Republican-run state.

In the latest case, announced in late October, they’re opposing a law that sailed through the GOP-run South Carolina legislature.  It mimics the draconian features of the worst of the prior laws, in Alabama, says SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina.

South Carolina’s law, like that in Alabama, not only lets law enforcement pursue workers based on how they look, forcing them to instantly prove their legal residency or face detention and deportation.  South Carolina’s law also makes criminals of anyone who helps or shelters undocumented workers, including the workers themselves. 

The Obama administration is suing in federal court to overturn the South Carolina law.  So is the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose suit SEIU joined.

“South Carolina’s erroneous immigration control law violates the U.S. Constitution.  States may not create their own immigration policy,” Medina said.

“In Alabama, where some of the most egregious provisions have been allowed to take effect pending a trial on the merits, chaos ensued as racial profiling has taken hold. Legal immigrants and Latino citizens are fleeing the state, children quit going to school, utility companies are threatening to shut off service and landlords warn of evictions.

“Meanwhile, contractors, growers and other businesses affected by the law are facing their own economic crises,” Medina said.  News reports also quote legal darker-skinned residents of Alabama – whose law is the model for South Carolina’s – as being afraid to go out of their doors for fear of being instantly challenged by police on grounds that they are illegal.

“Alabama serves as a profound example of why the South Carolina law must be stopped,” Medina said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said on Oct. 12 that South Carolina’s law, due to start on Jan. 1, “is unconstitutional, invites racial profiling and interferes with federal law.”  It also cited the “devastation” in Alabama.

“Families have fled Alabama, businesses have lost patrons, and a climate of fear and hate have settled over the state,” SPLC Legal Director Mary Bauer said. “These are the reasons we are continuing to fight against hateful and clearly unconstitutional laws, like the one passed in South Carolina.”

South Carolina’s SB20 subjects everyone, including citizens and legal residents to “unlawful search and seizure” violating the constitution, the SPLC said.  “The law requires police to demand ‘papers’ demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops when they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ a person lacks immigration status. It also criminalizes everyday interactions with undocumented individuals, such as driving someone to church or renting a room to a friend.”

The Obama administration’s suit against South Carolina’s law, like its suits against both Alabama and the original anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic law – Arizona’s notorious SB1070 – says the states are intruding on an area reserved for the federal government, immigration.  In South Carolina, other groups joining the law center’s suit include, besides SEIU, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project and the National Immigration Law Center.



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.