A pastor recently joined a lawsuit against South Carolina's immigration laws because she believes the law could inhibit church ministries, she said.
Sandra Jones, pastor of Spring of Life Lutheran Church, joined the American Civil Liberties Union and local interest groups to file a complaint Wednesday against a law that will go into effect in January 2012. Police officers will be required to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally when stopped or arrested. Transporting or harboring illegal immigrants will also be a crime.
The Columbia, S.C., pastor stated in court documents that her church has nearly 200 Latino members. She transports many of her congregants to after-school and summer programs, stores and medical appointments as part of her spiritual ministry.
Jones explained that she does not inquire as to the immigration status of her congregants and said she believes that many of the individuals she transports are undocumented.
The ACLU argued that police enforcement of federal immigration law violates the Constitution's 4th Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures.
Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina, said in a statement that the law "will make criminals out of good Samaritans, harm victims of crime and abuse, hamper police in preventing and solving crimes and create a climate of fear and prejudice in South Carolina."
State Attorney General Alan Wilson stands by the law. Wilson is named as a defendant is the suit along with Gov. Nikki Haley, Charleston County Sheriff James Alton Cannon Jr. and 9th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson.
"We have a strong opinion this law is constitutional and we're prepared to defend it to the U.S. Supreme Court if we have to," the attorney general said.
The complaint was filed two weeks after a similar anti-immigration law went into effect in Alabama.
The ACLU, U.S. Justice Department and several advocacy groups filed two motions against the state laws that empowered police to check the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens during traffic stops.
Bishop William Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church filed suit against the state's immigration laws.
He teamed up with three other bishops from Alabama's Episcopal and Roman Catholic dioceses and together argued that the Alabama immigration law does "irreparable harm" to church members who could potentially be criminalized for trying to help undocumented immigrants.
Last month, the Chief U.S. District court judge upheld portions of the bill requiring public schools to determine the legal residency of new students and allowing police to detain anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally if they fail to produce proper documentation.
The decision was followed by a number of student absences.
In Montgomery, Ala., 231 Hispanic children were absent from school the first day the law went into effect. In Jefferson County, schools reported that 139 Hispanic students were absent on the first day of the law and there were 135 absences reported the second day.
Bishop Willimon also told The Christian Post that some churches in his conference have experienced a 50 percent drop in attendance since the state legislature began considering the state immigration law.
"We have seen the destructive results of a similar law in Alabama, and the people of South Carolina should not face the same fate," said Andre Segura, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project.
President Barack Obama's administration said it is also examining the South Carolina law to determine whether to pursue legal action.