COLUMBIA — Sixteen Latin American and Caribbean nations today asked to join the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against South Carolina’s new illegal immigration law amid fears it would lead to their citizens facing state-sanctioned discrimination.
Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Ecuador and Chile were among the nations filing papers Tuesday, asking to join the litigation filed by the Justice Department last week in Charleston.
In the complaint, federal lawyers asked the court to stop the state from enforcing a law that takes effect in January. The measure would require law officers who make a traffic stop to call federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The measure bars officers from holding someone solely on that suspicion. Opponents railed against the measure as encouraging racial profiling.
The nations state in their filings that their relationships are with the United States and that relationship should not be affected by what states do. They’ve filed similar challenges to Alabama’s new law.
Mexico said it “has an interest in protecting its citizens and ensuring that their ethnicity is not used as the basis for state-sanctioned acts of bias and discrimination.”
That was a view shared in a separate request to join the litigation by Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
Lawyers filing the papers referred questions to the Mexican embassy in Washington.
In a subsequent statement, the Mexican government said some of the law’s “provisions would criminalize immigration and could lead to the selective application of the law. Its enforcement could adversely affect the civil rights of Mexican nationals living in South Carolina or visiting that state.”
Mexico said it would “continue to make use of all available means and channels in order to firmly and immediately respond to any violation of the fundamental rights of Mexicans, regardless of their immigration status.”
In a request filed Monday seeking a permanent halt to the law, the Justice Department argues that only the federal government has the constitutional authority to enforce immigration laws.
South Carolina’s law also mandates that all businesses use an online system the U.S. government runs to check their new hires’ legal status. If they knowingly violate the law, they can lose their business license.
It also makes it a felony to create fake identifications or harbor illegal immigrants.
U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles in South Carolina said the law violates people’s right to due process and is unconstitutional.
The Justice Department is challenging similar laws in Alabama and Arizona and is reviewing them in Utah, Indiana and Georgia.
They argue the state laws divert resources from efforts to fight terrorism, drug smuggling and gang activity and will bring harassment and detention of foreign visitors, legal immigrants or U.S. citizens who can’t immediately prove their legal status.
But supporters say the state laws wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government would do its job of enforcing the law.
Rob Godfrey, Gov. Nikki Haley’s spokesman, said Tuesday that the governor wouldn’t back down in the face of lawsuits and challenges.
“The governor’s job is to protect the citizens of South Carolina. That’s what she’s doing, and she isn’t going to stop no matter who decides to sue her, whether it be the unions, the ACLU, DOJ or anyone else,” Godfrey said.