Taking the state to federal court follows the course of action taken in several other states that have pursued harsh immigration measures, particularly Alabama, which federal authorities challenged in August. A federal judge delayed some sections of the Alabama law while others remain in force.
How Alabama authorities will enforce the remaining parts of the law is uncertain. Alabama currently is unable to deport unauthorized immigrants from the state because the US Department of Homeland Security has made it clear it will not offer the required assistance.
Even though South Carolina Attorney General Tony West has said he is prepared to argue the legislation’s merits all the way to the US Supreme Court, state officials are closely tracking the outcome of the case in Alabama to see just how far a state can go to challenge federal authorities on the issue.
“In a sense, we’re a footnote to the story. What happens in Alabama will overshadow what will happen here,” says Mark Tompkins, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
The real issue is not whether or not the state has the authority to draft its own immigration measures, Mr. Tompkins says. The more important question, he adds, is if the new law is “discriminatory” and therefore, unconstitutional.
There are 55,000 undocumented immigrants in South Carolina, representing 1 percent of the state’s total population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Comparably, undocumented workers represent 6 percent and 2.5 percent of total populations in Arizona and Alabama, respectively.