Charleston – A federal judge on Monday will hear arguments for and against South Carolina's tough new immigration law while pro-immigrant groups gather and pray that the measure will not enter into force on Jan. 1.
In a courtroom in the federal courthouse in Charleston, Judge Richard Gergel, will allow both sides to present their cases at a hearing, but no definitive decision is expected to be reached on Monday.
The Justice Department and a group of organizations led by the American Civil Liberties Union filed separate lawsuits in October seeking to overturn legislation they consider to be discriminatory, unconstitutional and certain to promote racial profiling.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed SB 20 on June 27, a law that emulates Arizona's SB 1070 by authorizing police to investigate the immigration status of people they stop for any reason.
It mandates the creation of the country's first state-level immigration enforcement unit.
SB 20 also penalizes those who transport undocumented foreigners with jail terms and fines and makes producing and selling false documents a felony.
South Carolina is arguing that the federal government has not done enough to combat unauthorized immigration, while the Obama administration claims that immigration is a matter that falls only within Washington's purview.
On the eve of the hearing on Monday, demonstrations, vigils, public events and the sending of numerous text messages on Sunday in cities like Charleston, Hilton Head, Columbia and Greenville were all geared toward urging people to pray that the judge in the case will decide in favor of immigrants.
In Columbia, the state capital, at least 300 Latinos, African Americans and Anglos marched through the city's downtown area and gathered near the capitol to listen to 16 religious leaders.
Lonnie Randolph, with the state chapter of the NAACP, said that "this (is) not an immigration matter but rather one of civil rights" and hopes that "South Carolina can correct its mistakes."
Meanwhile, the Rev. Sandra Jones, pastor of Spring of Life Lutheran Church in Columbia and a plaintiff in the ACLU-led lawsuit, asked the public to continue praying that the law will be struck down and also for the souls of people on the "other side" of the issue that their hearts might be "softened."
Humberto Manzano, a Mexican who has lived in South Carolina for 14 years, said that if the law enters into effect, many immigrants "will have to move out of the state so that they don't keep treating us badly."
While Maria Calef, a Panamanian schoolteacher, said that laws like SB 20 were created to "distract" the white population.
"They want to put the blame for unemployment on us when it's not like that. We're not taking anybody's job," she told Efe.
According to Diana Salazar, the president of the Latino Association of Charleston, if the legal process does not prove to be favorable to Latinos, they will "continue fighting, marching and letting people know that we're united."
Gergel has the authority to suspend implementation of SB 20, accept the arguments of the state government and let the law enter into force or to temporarily suspend its most controversial parts pending next year's Supreme Court decision on Arizona's SB 1070.
About 55,000 undocumented foreigners live in South Carolina.