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Alabama-lite? US sues to block South Carolina illegal immigration law.

As in Arizona and Alabama, the Justice Department wants to stop an anti-illegal-immigration law from taking effect – this time in South Carolina. The stable of states challenging federal immigration authority is growing.

By Staff writer / November 1, 2011

Audience members listen to President Obama speak about immigration reform at Chamizal National Memorial Park in El Paso, Texas.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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The Obama administration is taking South Carolina to federal court over an immigration bill the state passed in June.

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The South Carolina bill is the latest attempt by a state to take on immigration reform directly. Supporters of the South Carolina law say the Obama administration is not doing enough to enforce immigration law and keep undocumented immigrants from entering the US illegally.

“This state can no longer afford those who don’t come here the right way and we are now going to do something about it,” said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) in a statement released the day of the bill signing.

The bill, scheduled to become law Jan. 1., allows law enforcement officers to ask for proof of citizenship from people they may suspect of being undocumented. It also criminalizes harboring or transporting people known to be in the country illegally and punishes immigrants if caught without a certificate of registration.

The US Department of Justice filed its lawsuit Monday, arguing that the federal government has the “preeminent” authority in immigration reform and that the rigidity of the South Carolina law “will cause the detention and harassment of authorized visitors, immigrants, and citizens who do not have or carry identification documents specified by the statute.”

The government is asking a federal judge to temporarily block the law so that it can be argued in court.

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.

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