WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's administration Monday challenged a new immigration law by South Carolina, the third such law it has taken on, arguing it is unconstitutional and interferes with federal immigration authority, the Justice Department said.

"The Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country," the department said in a statement.

"South Carolina's law clearly conflicts with the policies and priorities adopted by the federal government and therefore cannot stand," it added.

The law in the southeastern US state "is designed to further criminalize unauthorized immigrants.

"And like the Arizona and Alabama laws, (it) expands the opportunity for police to push unauthorized immigrants towards incarceration for various new immigration crimes by enforcing an immigration status verification system," according to the challenge.

The law in South Carolina, signed by Governor Nikki Haley -- the daughter of immigrants from India, signed the law in June. It is to take effect January 1.

The department argued that South Carolina's law would unduly burden federal agencies

It also will "result in the harassment and detention of foreign visitors and legal immigrants, as well as US citizens, who cannot readily prove their lawful status," the department charged.

Haley however believes her small, socially conservative state is within its local legal rights.

"As the daughter of immigrants who came to this country legally, Governor Haley understands that no American value is more sacred than the rule of law. That's what this is about, 'nothing more, nothing less,' Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey told Politico.com.

"If the Feds were doing their job, we wouldn't have had to address illegal immigration reform at the state level. But, until they do, we're going to keep fighting in South Carolina to be able to enforce our laws."

The United States, with some 11 million undocumented migrants, sorely needs national immigration reform, which Obama has said he will try to pursue if he is re-elected.

Opposing flexibility on immigration politically can be very thorny in the United States, where most people are either descended from immigrants or are immigrants themselves.

But with the economy sputtering and unemployment high, many conservatives argue immigrants take jobs away from American workers. Opponents however maintain US workers simply will not do the toughest of jobs -- like farm work and meat processing -- commonly taken by migrants in the country illegally.

Photo credit: Albert N. Milliron