It would be great if Thursday's immigration law ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel contributes to the emerging national discussion on immigration.

Our own Sen. Lindsey Graham said as much in the wake of the national election. Because what's in place right now isn't working.

“Of course we're disappointed that the 'show me your papers' provision is still upheld,” said Victoria Middleton, executive director the ACLU of South Carolina. But she added the ACLU and other civil liberties groups remain optimistic.

Middleton, who attended the hearing Tuesday, said Judge Gergel encouraged those groups to return to the court system if they receive complaints of the law being abused.

So there's hope, and there's even the possibility for change.

Defining what's reasonable

Immigration is not a black and white issue; it has many shades, “way too complex for an officer on the street to have to deal with,” Middleton said.

Someone could have a visa that's expired, or have applied for citizenship, or be seeking asylum, but there's no way to know that by looking.

“That large number of people who may 'look like immigrants' are also vulnerable to being challenged,” Middleton said. Trying to identify people by sight who just look like they don't belong here could result in profiling everyone from our own governor to someone with Ohio license plates.

The ruling also upholds the portion of the law that makes it illegal to hold people for an unreasonable amount of time while those checks are being completed. “Eighty minutes would not be a reasonable amount of time,” Middleton added.

And that's time an officer is not out responding to other calls.

Meanwhile, it would set up some really bad scenarios from a humanrights perspective.

“Families are very much going to be affected by this if someone is detained. ... It can create a humanitarian crisis.”

And if you think that's overblown, think again. What if you or a loved one is pulled over for the ubiquitous broken taillight on the way to pick up your child from day care? What if daycare closes in 30 minutes? Suddenly, it seems like a much bigger deal to have to wait while someone checks your status.

The future

The most recent U.S. Census figures show that the foreign-born share of our state's population increased to 4.7 percent in 2010, or 218,494 foreign-born residents. That's a population that's growing, not going away.

For his part, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen had no plans at the end of the week to have his officers start doing anything differently. “We don't want to do something that's going to create a wedge between the police and the community,” Mullen said. What they do will be shaped by direction from the state attorney general's office, “after we've had a chance to clearly define what the expectations are for our officers.”

Sounds like a good plan for everyone.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or mbalog@postandcourier.com.