COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's top law enforcement officer told the governor's Cabinet on Thursday the discussion surrounding illegal immigration reform in the Legislature is "extremely intellectually dishonest."
Reggie Lloyd, the director of the State Law Enforcement Division, recently faced a grilling by state lawmakers over why parts of the state's 2008 anti-illegal immigration law have not been implemented, as Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, began a push for new, even tougher state laws.
SLED is required under the existing law to reach an agreement with the federal government for the enforcement of immigration laws. And Grooms wants South Carolina to build on the 2008 law by modeling new legislation after Arizona to allow state and local officers to arrest people for being in the country illegally.
Lloyd said immigration enforcement costs money and depends on available federal resources. For example, he said any South Carolina officers trained for illegal immigration enforcement need to be supervised by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.
Legislators have taken an "ill-conceived" and "daft" approach to the issue, Lloyd said.
"We offered to the General Assembly our resources, our experience and our expertise to try to work through these problems," Lloyd said.
One such problem is where to put illegal immigrants who would be arrested under Grooms' proposed law. If the state were to arrest individuals based only on their immigration status, the state would have to fund detention facilities, Lloyd said.
Grooms said Thursday that SLED has not done a good job communicating to lawmakers the issues the agency needs addressed to be able to enforce the 2008 law or an expansion of it.
"I think they should have spoken up before now," Grooms said. The Legislature has passed the upcoming budget and adjourned for the year, he said. Had Lloyd or another official from SLED let the Legislature know the money problems, Grooms said he thinks legislators would have found the money.
Grooms said his proposed bill is an attempt to allow the state to go around the federal government, because of Congress' failure to address illegal immigration issues more forcefully.
"We have a serious problem in this state and it is not being addressed," Grooms said. "We passed the toughest law in the country in 2008 and now we're going back in, trying to pass something similar to Arizona. ... If (Lloyd) is not going to address it, he has to be held accountable by his boss and that is the governor of the state."
Sanford said enforcing existing law is complicated.
"There are certain real limitations based on funding, based on legislative mandate, based on what the feds say we can or can't do," Sanford said during his Cabinet meeting.
The gubernatorial candidates seeking to step in when Sanford's term expires weighed in on the matter Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, who faces state Rep. Nikki Haley in a runoff June 22 for the GOP nomination, said he believes South Carolina needs to be tough on illegal immigration.
"The Obama administration has failed to enforce our federal immigration laws, and as governor, Gresham Barrett will stand up for South Carolina's Tenth Amendment rights," Barrett's campaign spokeswoman Erin Ingraham said in a statement. "Gresham will ensure the laws already on the books will be stringently enforced -- and will also push to pass an Arizona-style immigration plan right here at home."
Haley said the state needs to take action but officials must be practical.
"Laws are only as good as our ability to enforce them," she said in a statement. "In order to enforce illegal immigration reform in this state, we have to fund the prosecution of the laws we passed and give Reggie Lloyd and his staff the resources they need.
"Governing effectively is all about prioritizing how we spend taxpayer dollars and making sure that the laws we pass are actually working for the people of this state -- right now, that's not happening, but as the reform movement that's sweeping South Carolina continues to grow, it will."
The Democrats' nominee, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, said the solution to illegal immigration issues goes hand in hand with enforcing the law that bars employers from using illegal labor, said Trav Robertson, Sheheen's campaign spokesman.
"When companies and businesses really understand that there are penalties for hiring illegal immigrants, then we can help eliminate that problem," Robertson said.