By Mary Slosson
(Reuters) - U.S. states with immigration laws modeled after Arizona say they hope to implement their own legislation soon after a mixed Supreme Court ruling let stand the most controversial element of Arizona's crackdown on illegal immigrants.
Five states followed Arizona's example in crafting laws requiring police to notify federal authorities when they have reasonable suspicion that someone is in the country illegally, and sometimes imposed other strictures as well.
Those states - Alabama, Georgia, Utah, Indiana and South Carolina - have found themselves in federal court just like Arizona, facing lawsuits, either from immigrant rights groups, the Department of Justice, or both.
Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in on Arizona's law, upholding police checks on immigration status while throwing out three other provisions, lawsuits that hinged on that ruling are moving forward, with no sign from the states that they will soften parts of their laws.
In South Carolina, state officials are moving full steam ahead with preparations to implement their law, which provides for a special Immigration Enforcement Unit of the state police, complete with special uniforms and marked cars.
The state police began hiring and training officers for the unit in January, and will be ready to start enforcing the "legal stop" provision in mid-July if an injunction is lifted, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sherri Iocabelli said.
Portions of South Carolina's immigration law, signed into law in 2011, have been blocked by a federal judge.
As in Arizona, South Carolina's law requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop if there is a reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
One part of South Carolina's law not addressed directly by the Supreme Court's Arizona ruling makes it a felony for anyone to knowingly harbor or transport an illegal immigrant.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said he would ask the Court of Appeals to let that provision take effect. State Senator Larry Martin, who sponsored the immigration legislation, told Reuters the state would continue to uphold the state's law all the way to the Supreme Court.
In Alabama, where the law requires police to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally if the person cannot produce documentation when stopped, Solicitor General John Neiman said the high court decision did not jeopardize any provisions already in force.
The Alabama law, viewed as the toughest state immigration law in the country, also requires public schools to determine students' immigration status, a provision that was temporarily blocked in October by a U.S. appeals court.
That state's law came under fire last year when police briefly detained two foreign employees in the state's important auto industry for failing to produce proof of legal residency.
Some of the key provisions in the Alabama law are threatened by the Supreme Court ruling, Paul Horwitz, a constitutional law professor at the University of Alabama School of Law, said.
The federal judge overseeing the legal challenges against Alabama's immigration law has already asked for a supplemental briefing by July 6, Neiman said.
UTAH SEES ITSELF IN LINE WITH COURT
Utah's bill requires law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone detained for a felony or serious misdemeanor and the architect of that state's law, Stephen Sandstrom, believes its measures are in line with the Supreme Court ruling. Unlike in Arizona, checks are discretionary for those suspected of lesser offenses.
"The Utah law that I passed was exactly, 100 percent in line with the Supreme Court ruling," Sandstrom told Reuters.
Utah, which passed a suite of immigration laws in 2011, also passed provisions outlining a guest-worker program and allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. But those aspects did not take effect, and experts say implementation is unlikely.
The enforcement bill was the only one slated to go into effect before lawsuits by immigrant activists and the Department of Justice prompted a federal judge to put it on hold.
The judge could choose to lift the stay he imposed on the law, or issue a formal ruling on the matter. He could also call in both parties for another hearing on the legal challenge.
Georgia and Indiana are also awaiting rulings on their immigration laws, portions of which were blocked by the courts.
Additionally, the Supreme Court ruling could also clear the way for more states to enter the fray, according to Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State in Kansas who, as a private lawyer, helped draft parts of the Arizona law.
"When the state legislatures start up again next year, you will probably see those bills introduced," Kobach said, citing Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Mississippi as examples.
Already, Texas Governor Rick Perry has said he would again tackle legislation banning "sanctuary cities" that provide safe haven to illegal immigrants. He had backed similar proposals that ultimately failed in the regular and special sessions of the Texas legislature last year.
(Additional reporting by Jennifer Dobner in Utah, Susan Guyett in Indiana, Kelli Dugan in Alabama, David Beasley in Georgia, Harriet McLeod in South Carolina, Kevin Murphy in Kansas and Corrie MacLaggan in Texas; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and David Brunnstrom)