The South Carolina Immigration Enforcement Unit will soon enter into operation in an attempt to target illegal immigrants in the state who have also broken other laws. The unit was created in 2011, when the state’s latest immigration law went into effect. Having completed its organizational phase, the one-of-a-kind unit of six officers is ready to hit the streets. However, these officers lack the authority to check suspects’ residency status due to the ICE’s recent discontinuation of the program that empowered local agencies to act on the federal government’s behalf.
The unit will target illegal immigrants who are involved in drug smuggling, human trafficking, and other serious crimes. According to Unit Commander Lt. Eddie C. Johnson, officers will not focus on undocumented immigrants on the state’s highways or at job sites.“We’re not trying to start a panic with people saying that these folks are out there trying to snatch people up,” Johnson said.
Immigrant and Latino rights activists in the state have expressed concern that the unit will overstep its authority due to its inability to determine whether suspects are in the country illegally. According to Tammy Beshearse of the Appleseed Legal Justice Center, “They will be stepping into dangerous territory if they don’t have the required training.”
Although the Immigration Enforcement Unit did not receive approval to check immigration status from ICE, it has worked with and received training from the agency. In the future, the unit will provide immigration enforcement training to other police agencies in South Carolina.