by: Greg Suskin Updated:
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina's attorney general said Tuesday the state is taking the next step to enforce its immigration laws.
Alan Wilson's office is busy filing a motion in federal court to unblock the state's tough new law that was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1.
Part of South Carolina's immigration law is similar to the law in Arizona, which allows law enforcement officers to check the legal status of a person they stop as long as there is reasonable suspicion that person could be in the country illegally.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that part of Arizona's law.
South Carolina's law was blocked while the courts considered the case. Now that the case has been heard, the state must apply to have its law released from that federal block.
A court could grant that request in just weeks.
However, political experts caution that the Arizona decision is only the beginning.
Winthrop University professor Karen Kedrowski said if states continue to pass their own individual laws, legal challenges could mount quickly.
"We're going to see enormous differences between states in terms of what degree they're willing to enforce federal immigration laws," Kedrowski said. "This could all be in court for many years."
Some local lawmakers said it’s the lack of a strong federal law that caused them to take action in the first place.
"It's very frustrating for us," said Rock Hill Republican state Rep. Gary Simrill.
Simrill accused Washington of turning a blind eye to immigration, then cracking down on the states for doing what it would not do.
"It's time to act now. Have a law that works for all 50 states," Simrill said.
The politically charged issue is a tough one for vote-needing politicians to take a stand on either way. Latino voters are growing in numbers and power nationwide. They now make up the largest single minority, about 15 percent of the population.
That's a number that elected leaders, and those hoping to get elected, cannot take lightly.
"Latinos are an important constituency to the Democratic Party, and the Republicans in many states are also trying to win Latino votes," Kedrowski said.