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Beverly Hills, California, United States
Eli Kantor is a labor, employment and immigration law attorney. He has been practicing labor, employment and immigration law for more than 36 years. He has been featured in articles about labor, employment and immigration law in the L.A. Times, Business Week.com and Daily Variety. He is a regular columnist for the Daily Journal. Telephone (310)274-8216; eli@elikantorlaw.com. For more information, visit beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com and and beverlyhillsemploymentlaw.com


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Immigration: U.S. Judge Focuses on a 'Few' Areas

The State reported that: South Carolina will know by the New Year whether police will be able to check the immigration status of anyone they detain, including people pulled over for minor traffic violations.

During a hearing Monday regarding the state's new immigration law, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he saw no reason to rule that the whole law is void. The federal government along with a coalition of immigrant and civil-rights groups filed suit in October asking for an injunction that would prevent the S.C. law from taking effect.

And while it is unlikely that Gergel would block the entire law, questions indicate he is considering blocking one provision that requires immigrants to carry their paperwork that permits them to be in the United States and another that requires police to check immigration status. "We've got 20 sections and we're down to talking about just a few of them," Gergel said.

"The state doesn't like calling it a traffic dragnet, but I fear that is what it is."

Gergel spent more than two hours questioning attorneys during Monday morning's hearing in U.S. District Court. In preparation for the hearing, Gergel said he had read the entire state law, more than 2,000 pages of briefs and the Federalist Papers, a series of essays written to convince voters to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Arizona, Alabama and Utah. Federal judges in Arizona and Alabama had differing opinions on the laws while the Utah case is pending.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the Arizona case in 2012. Since South Carolina used Arizona as its model, the Supreme Court's decision could change any ruling made by Gergel.

"The one thing we can all be assured of . . . is none of us are going to be the last word on this," Gergel said.

South Carolina has maintained that it has an interest in enforcing immigration law since the federal government has failed to prevent the flow of illegal immigrants into the state.

"South Carolina certainly has a strong law enforcement interest," said Emory Smith, assistant deputy attorney general. "It's obvious the state of South Carolina thought nothing was being done so it passed this law."

Arthur Goldberg, an assistant attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said the federal government has sole authority in creating and implementing immigration policy. If each state is allowed to set its own immigration laws, they would complicate foreign relations, he said.

"This prevents the United States from speaking in one voice," he said. "The states are valued partners with respect to immigration but they are not equal partners."

As part of the government's case, Assistant Secretary of State William Burns filed a brief, saying individual state laws were interfering with foreign policy. That brief weighed heavily on Gergel's questions.

"What Mr. Burns is saying is, 'I'm talking about drug trafficking and the Mexican government is talking about South Carolina.'"

Later, Gergel said, "The whole country is going to be held responsible for the acts of any one state and that's where there must be federal authority on immigration policy."

Gergel also expressed concern about a piece of the law that would criminalize anyone in the country illegally. Under the state law, police would be allowed to jail people for no reason other than they are illegal immigrants. Currently, the federal government treats those cases as civil violations.

"We're going to pull them over on the way to the Piggly Wiggly and put them in jail?" Gergel asked. "Come on. This is in direct conflict with federal law."

Monday's hearing was held in a packed courtroom where dozens of immigrant and civil-rights advocates sat in on the proceedings. Before the hearing, more than 100 people marched from the federal courthouse to a downtown park, where they chanted and sang in protest of the state's law. At least four bishops from different religious denominations in South Carolina led prayers in opposition to the law.

After the hearing, Eric Esquivel, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said he hopes Gergel blocks the law because it would otherwise result in racial profiling and would be divisive in communities across the state. "Any law that creates fear and is harmful to people is un-American," Esquivel said. "I want to feel like South Carolina is a great place to live that's inclusive of all, especially with my heritage being Latino."

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