SC Appleseed and Partner Rights Groups Settle Immigration Law Challenge | Key Provisions Struck Down

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Nearly two and half years after filing the class action lawsuit Low Country Immigration Coalition v. Haley in response to SB20/Act69  (i.e. South Carolina’s “papers please” law), an agreement was reached and adopted that provides a step forward for our state and for communities across the nation.

On Monday, March 3, 2014, South Carolina Appleseed and a group of litigation partners* reached a proposed settlement with the State of South Carolina regarding South Carolina’s anti-immigration law (SB20/Act69). The lawsuit, filed in October 2011, charged that the law subjected South Carolinians – including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – to unlawful seizure based on nationality and interfered with federal authority over immigration matters. Additionally, a provision that allows law enforcement officers to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops raised concerns about whether people would suffer prolonged and illegal detainment for minor traffic offenses. 

Yesterday, Judge Richard Gergel entered final judgment by adopting the settlement agreement between the parties. Explained in more detail at the bottom, the adopted agreement between the parties will:

  • permanently block provisions that criminalize daily interactions with undocumented immigrants.
  • prevent enforcement of a provision that would have imposed criminal penalties on those who fail to carry immigration documents.

This is a victory for the coalition and community members who challenged SB 20, and for all South Carolinians. We’re glad the state has set forth clear limits on what law enforcement can and cannot do – this will help law enforcement and communities. And we are especially pleased that the most egregious portions of this anti-immigration law will be permanently blocked. We are grateful for the partnerships with local law firms and organizations, and the support national rights groups were able to provide, that brought this agreement together. We will remain vigilant and continue to fight for the rights of all immigrants in South Carolina.

Now, on to Comprehensive Immigration Reform!

“After nearly three years, this ugly chapter in South Carolina’s civil rights history will finally come to a close. Today’s settlement makes clear that South Carolinians, regardless of where they were born, can live free from fear that they will be detained by police simply to determine whether they are in this country without authorization. Other states can – and should – make such clarifications in their own laws.”
– Karen Tumlin, National Immigration Law Center


  1. It will not be a crime to “harbor” or transport people who are undocumented.
    • A win for victim service providers and other humanitarians who help immigrants who can continue to render assistance and aid without fear of prosecution.
  2. It will limit enforcement of “papers please” provision of SB 20, which required police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone who they “reasonably suspected” to be in the US illegally.
    • The settlement creates strict guidance for this provision and includes a formal opinion from South Carolina’s attorney general noting that law enforcement officers may not:
      • stop, hold, or arrest individuals only to check immigration status.
      • arrest people simply for being undocumented.
      • detain someone longer than necessary to issue a ticket for the underlying violation, regardless of their immigration status.