Gov. Nikki Haley says South Carolina has “defied D.C.” to create its own way to fight illegal immigration.
“It is the only statewide jurisdiction that we know of in the country that is actually working with ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and making cases. They are focused on stopping human smuggling and trafficking, gang violence and drug smuggling. So these are things that even when D.C> told us we couldn’t do it, they have managed to work with ICE officials to make sure we are doing it, that we are taking on illegal immigration, that we are making cases and getting some of that activity out of South Carolina,” said Haley.
The brand new unit is under the SC Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Highway Patrol. The six-person team will not be checking papers, but instead will be called in to help other agencies in three cases: a citizen complaint about criminal activity, local law enforcement files a criminal activity complaint with the unit, or ICE calls them in to help in South Carolina.
The distinction is that there must be criminal activity involved, not simple suspicion that someone is an illegal immigrant. The SC Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation enforces immigration laws in the workplace.
On June 2 of this year, SCDPS was allowed to hire six people, who were then trained for six weeks, according to Lt. Eddie Johnson, a retired highway patrolman.
“Some of it was taught at the federal level, some was taught out-of-state, the rest was taught in state,” said Johnson. “After that, we got with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in South Carolina and they have been good about providing any assistance that we need to get the unit up and running and work with us.”
The agency was allocated 12 employees, yet the budget has limited their hiring any more, according to Smith.
“It’s going to take us probably a couple of years to go back to the Assembly, once we kind of get a good feel, a good assessment of what it is we are doing and how we are doing it,” said Smith. “I am proud of what our Immigration Enforcement Unit has accomplished in a short time. This was a unit created by an act of legislation. When we began putting it together, however, there was no roadmap to follow. “