New S.C. immigration enforcement unit making arrests
COLUMBIA — While the state waits on a ruling for the so-called “show me your papers” provision of its new immigration law, a new unit created by the law has been arresting illegal immigrants suspected of crimes.
The S.C. Immigration Enforcement Unit was launched in June and has made several arrests on felony and misdemeanor charges, said Lt. Eddie Johnson, the unit’s commander.
Johnson and S.C. Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said Wednesday they could not talk about the cases or say how many arrests had been made.
Smith did say that arrests made by the unit have led to successful prosecutions by local prosecutors. Other cases are in progress, he said.
The unit features six officers, all with South Carolina law enforcement backgrounds.
They work on cases in which federal officials already have identified suspects as being in the country illegally.
Gov. Nikki Haley touted the group Wednesday during a press conference addressing the state of her Public Safety Department.
She said the unit is focused on stopping human trafficking, gang violence and drug smuggling. “We are getting some of that activity out that we don’t want in South Carolina,” Haley said.
The unit also is tasked with teaching law enforcement officers across the state about how to handle immigration issues.
Johnson said the unit is the only one of its type in the country that has a full-time, statewide focus and works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to make cases.
“We built this immigration unit from the ground up; there was no map,” Smith said.
Johnson said the unit’s investigations begin when it receives a call from ICE, a complaint from local law enforcement or a complaint from a citizen.
Workplace immigration issues aren’t in the unit’s purview.
The federal government sued the state late last year after Haley signed the immigration law.
Among the provisions the federal government wants blocked is a policy that requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of anyone they pull over suspected of being in the country illegally.
The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned much of a similar Arizona law, but upheld the provision on immigration status checks.
A federal judge blocked some portions of South Carolina’s law from going into effect on Jan. 1, but has said he needs to reconsider the ruling in light of the Supreme Court ruling.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel is expected to again address the law in a hearing next month.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.