President Barack Obama's administration sought on Monday to block parts of South Carolina's new immigration law, arguing that the federal government had preeminent authority over immigration matters.
The Justice Department is asking a federal court to intervene, bringing to three the number of states the Obama administration is suing over immigration crackdowns.
The court filing sought an injunction against portions of the state law, which is set to take effect on Jan. 1 and toughens measures against undocumented immigrants.
The government earlier challenged Alabama's new law.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take up a challenge to Arizona's immigration law.
Monday's action is directed at parts of the new South Carolina law that, for example:
- Require police to determine immigration status during any lawful stop, detention, investigation, or arrest where there is "reasonable suspicion" that an individual is unlawfully present;
- Allow state residents to sue any local government agency that moves to limit enforcement of state immigration laws;
- Create a state crime of "allowing oneself to be transported" for the purpose of harboring someone here illegally or concealing a person's immigration status.
"By pursuing retribution and ignoring every other objective embodied in the federal immigration system (including the federal government's prioritization of the removal of criminal aliens)," the Justice Department argued, the South Carolina law "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."
With the failure of Congress in recent years to pass comprehensive federal immigration legislation, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina and Indiana have passed their own.
Supporters and opponents alike agree none contained provisions as strict as those passed in Alabama, among them one that required schools to check students' immigration status. That provision, which has been temporarily blocked, would allow the Supreme Court to reconsider a decision that said a kindergarten to high school education must be provided to illegal immigrants.