At Issue: U.S. Immigration Policy
South Carolina it the latest state to get hit with a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice over its law aimed to drive out illegal immigrants.. REUTERS

The Obama administration stepped up its effort to beat back states' anti-immigration laws this week as the U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against South Carolina.

The lawsuit says that more onerous sections of South Carolina's immigration law, slated to go into effect January 2012, are unconstitutional because they step into the federal government's domain.

Similar lawsuits from the DOJ have been filed against Arizona and Alabama because of their own strict laws intended to drive illegal Hispanic immigrants from these states.

In South Carolina, the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration groups made the first salvo against the Palmetto State with a class action lawsuit.

Like other states, South Carolina's law makes transporting or harboring an illegal immigrant a criminal offense, creates a misdemeanor for failure to carry registration documents and requires law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested.

Such regulation does not fall within the states' traditional police powers and remains the exclusive province of the federal government, the Justice Department said in its Monday lawsuit.

Republicans Cite Federal Government Underperformance

A common refrain from Republicans who push anti-immigration legislation is that the federal government has failed to enforce laws to control illegal immigration, forcing the states to handle the problem on their own.

We're trying to help the federal government do something that they are incapable of or failing to do right now and that's enforce immigration, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a Republican, said.

The goal to drive illegal immigrants to other states without these strict regulations has been working. In Alabama, Hispanic families have left or taken their children out of school. In Georgia, farmers are complaining that their labor force has dried up, leaving millions of dollars in crops rotting on vines and in fields.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide the constitutionality of these state immigration enforcement laws now that multiple cases from the Justice Department have been filed and are working their way through the federal appellate courts.