Holder sues South Carolina over immigration reform

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The Obama administration has boosted its efforts to bar state-level enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws by suing South Carolina over its new immigration reform law.

The Monday announcement by the Department of Justice follows the news that the Department of Homeland Security has quietly canceled long-standing checks of transportation hubs for illegal immigrants.

Administration officials defended the controversial lawsuit Monday, despite the nation’s unemployment rate of at least 9 percent.

“Today’s lawsuit makes clear once again that the Justice Department will not hesitate to challenge a state’s immigration law, as we have in Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina, if we find that the law interferes with the federal government’s enforcement of immigration,” read a statement from embattled Attorney General Eric Holder.

But South Carolina officials pushed back. “If the feds were doing their job, we wouldn’t have had to address illegal immigration reform at the state level,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for the Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. “Until they do, we’re going to keep fighting in South Carolina to be able to enforce our laws.”

In September, a coalition of Democratic-leaning groups sued to stop the state’s reform, which is due to take effect in January. The coalition includes the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. (RELATED: Congressional calls for Holder’s resignation more than double to 17)

Under the South Carolina reform, police officers are required to summon federal immigration authorities if they suspect an arrested person is an illegal alien. The law also makes it a felony for people to use fake identification documents for illegal immigrants, and for people to transport illegal immigrants.

The law also allows state residents to sue state officials who do not enforce the law.

The administration’s intensified efforts to avoid enforcing the law are likely intended to complement the administration’s efforts to spur turnout in 2012 by immigrant groups, including Hispanics, Asians and Arabs.

Advocacy groups claiming to represent immigrants, such as the National Council of La Raza, have repeatedly urged the administration to further loosen immigration enforcement, despite a national unemployment rate of more than 9 percent.

Democratic officials have repeatedly stated that they expect to win a high proportion of immigrants’ votes in critical swing states, such as North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado.

Democratic governors or legislators have blocked immigration-related reforms in several states, including North Carolina and Virginia.

Federal officials have already sued to block enforcement of immigration reforms passed in Arizona and Alabama, Also, federal agency officials have adopted new rules that slow the deportation of illegals, prompted the release of many illegals being processed for deportation and curbed long-standing efforts to find illegal immigrants.

This weekend, the Associated Press reported that border patrol agents revealed that they had been quietly ordered to stop seeking illegal immigrants passing through bus stations and other transportation hubs.

“Orders have been sent out from Border Patrol headquarters in Washington, D.C., to Border Patrol sectors nationwide that checks of transportation hubs and systems located away from the southwest border of the United States will only be conducted if there is intelligence indicating a threat,” such as terrorism, said a Oct. 27 statement from the National Border Patrol Council, which is an affiliate of the AFL-CIO union group.

Since 2000, roughly 14 million new legal and illegal immigrants have entered the country, boosting the foreign-born population to 40 million out of 310 million. Average salaries and the number of jobs in the country declined during this period, leaving the nation with at least 14 million unemployed people in 2011, and an expanding gap between the wealthy and the poor, many of whom are new immigrants reliant on government services.

Immigration is a hot-button issue, despite media coverage that focuses on the new immigration reform laws established in South Carolina, Arizona and Alabama.

For example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has seen his rating slide from favorite to third-ranking candidate once primary voters responded to his claim that it is “heartless” to oppose free tuition for illegal immigrants, despite growing class sizes and widening deficits among state and local governments.

Perry had been expected to keep his lead in the race, partly because his free-market policies have helped the state create roughly 40 percent of the nation’s new jobs between 2007 and 2011.

But roughly 40 percent of those new Texas jobs have gone to illegal immigrants, and another 40 percent went to legal immigrants, according to an in-depth study by the Center for immigration Studies. The study also showed a decline in the percentage of native-born Texas who were employed. Immigrants gained many of the new jobs, partly because they can relocate to new opportunities much easier than native Americans, who are often reliant on neighbors friends and family for financial and social support.

In South Carolina, the unemployment rate is at least 11 percent.

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