November 1, 2011
DOJ Files Complaint Against South Carolina Immigration Law
The Federal Government's complaint in United States v. South Carolina seeks an injunction against various portions of South Carolina's immigration statute, Act 69, scheduled to become effective January 1, 2012.
As expected, the complaint alleges that the state act is pre-empted by federal law and is therefore void under the Supremacy Clause, Article VI. Just as the South Carolina statute imitates other state laws, the federal complaint makes similar arguments.
Of special interest, however, is paragraph 33 of the DOJ complaint:
33. On June 27, 2011, Governor Nikki R. Haley signed into law Act No. 69, which
contains several provisions designed to work together to discourage and deter the entry into and presence of unlawful aliens in South Carolina through a statute that regulates numerous aspects of these aliens’ lives. Indeed, Governor Haley, in signing Act No. 69, said that one purpose of the law is to “make sure” that unlawfully present aliens find “another State to go to.” See Governor Nikki Haley Signs Illegal Immigration Reform Bill (video recording), available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMZikpA3_8U (uploaded by “nikkihaley”).
Indeed, the governor's remark appears at the segment starting at 2:35 in the video below:
This comment lends credence to the federal government's argument that individual state laws frustrate the implementation of a national immigration policy.
The complaint's most concise articulation of the government's implied pre-emption occurs in paragraph 35:
. . . Act No. 69 conflicts with and otherwise stands as an obstacle to Congress’s demand for
sufficient flexibility in the enforcement of federal immigration law to accommodate the
competing interests of immigration control, national security and public safety, humanitarian
concerns, and foreign relations – a balance implemented through the supervision and policies of the President and other executive officers with the discretion to enforce federal immigration laws. See 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq. South Carolina’s punitive scheme would further undermine federal foreign policy, in that the federal government has – as a matter of reciprocal, bilateral understandings – established that unlawfully present foreign nationals (who have not committed some other violation of law) should be removed without criminal sanction or other punitive measures and that the same treatment should be afforded to American nationals who are unlawfully present in other countries. Act No. 69 would thus interfere with federal policy and prerogatives in the enforcement of the U.S. immigration laws and the conduct of foreign affairs. All of these provisions are backed by a private right of action that ensures a policy of full enforcement by every political subdivision in the State (Section 1).
Act 69 (also known as SB20) is also the subject of a complaint filed in federal court in October, Lowcountry Immigration Coalition v. Haley, alleging the unconstitutionality of the law.
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