Scrapping the “show me your papers” provision from South Carolina’s immigration law doesn’t mean it’s been defanged. It’s a smart move that lessens the possibility for abuse and intimidation.
The shift is the result of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson agreeing to settle a suit brought by a coalition of civil-rights groups against the state’s 2011 immigration law. The law was initially interpreted as allowing police officers to detain people solely to check their immigration status – a provision that was actually blocked by a federal court. Giving local police officers the ability to stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally greatly undermines federal law.
Immigration is the purview of the federal government, and aspects such as the “show me your papers” provision institute an unwarranted expansion of the state’s role in enforcing immigration.
This doesn’t negate an officer’s ability to stop and question someone suspected of committing a crime. But the provision certainly opens the door to racial profiling, creating a cloud of suspicion merely because of the way someone looks, even if they’re in the country legally.
It’s easy to see why Wilson, who previously pressed hard to keep the law intact, was on the losing side of the argument. The U.S. Supreme Court already agreed to strike down similarly controversial aspects of Arizona’s immigration law.
The courts have determined that it’s unconstitutional to prolong regular traffic stops or jail stays to determine the immigration status of suspects. Additionally, it’s up to the federal government to regulate immigration.
Although it’s a wise retreat by the state, it doesn’t mean immigration reform should be left off the list as a priority for Congress and the federal government. For instance, federal law imposes penalties on employers that knowingly hire undocumented workers. Those penalties are currently spottily enforced, which shouldn’t be the case.
Providing some path to citizenship should also be considered for the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. That could mean providing proof of work, paying back taxes and going through a security check.
Lax regulations by the federal government has undoubtedly forced states such as Arizona and South Carolina to try to blaze their own trail on immigration. But the measures crafted by those states went over the line.
Consequently, it was the right call for South Carolina to put the brakes on its current law. It’s now time for Congress to take on immigration in a way that allows for the laws to be enforced, but also continues to ensure America is a place of economic freedom and opportunity.
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