Several nations challenge SC immigration law

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) -- Sixteen Latin American and Caribbean nations have asked to join the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against South Carolina's new illegal immigration law.

South Carolina's law goes into effect in January and is among the toughest in the nation.

In briefs filed Tuesday, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras and other countries say they have an interest in making sure their citizens' ethnicity is not used as a basis for state-sanctioned discrimination.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said last week the government wants a judge to stop enforcement of South Carolina's law that requires officers to call federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally following a traffic stop for something else. Justice Department officials say that diverts federal resources from high priority targets like terrorism, drug smuggling and gang activity.

Related Stories SC AG vows to take immigration fight to U.S. Supreme Court Alabama immigration law stands, but cops still wary Officials: new immigration unit a year away

Last month, Nettles met with state attorney general Alan Wilson to talk about the issue. Nettles argues the law is unconstitutional and violates people's right to due process.

Wilson disagrees and says he's willing to take his fight for the state's immigration law as high as the U.S. Supreme Court.

"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," said Wilson last week after the suit was filed.

The federal government is also challenging similar laws in Arizona and Alabama and is reviewing laws in several other states.

The Justice Department argues in a request for a permanent halt to the South Carolina law that only the federal government has the constitutional authority to enforce immigration laws.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)