HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The Horry County Sheriff's Office is moving forward on an initiative to bring some of the powers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the local level. The power of enforcement would come through a federal program called 287(g) which allows state and local law enforcement to take on some of the authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.
Tuesday the sheriff's office received support from the ICE field office in Atlanta for their request for Task Force Officers through the program. Task Force Officers would act as an investigative component; investigating mostly drug trafficking, human trafficking, and gang activities. They did not receive support for Jail Enforcement Officers which would work in the jail to identify illegal immigrants and then begin the paperwork to identify those persons to ICE officials.
One woman who wished to be referred to simply as Vanessa says she is concerned about the application of 287(g) on a local level.
"I just want the people in Horry County to think if there's other ways, otherways of controlling the issue of immigration that is upsetting them besides implementing law 287(g)," she said.
Vanessa says it is hard for her to understand the animosity she recognizes in the community towards the latino population.
"I wish I could understand what people don't like about us. Why is it so hard to accept us?"
Vanessa came to the United States with her mom when she was just 14, one of millions of undocumented immigrants.
"A lot of people think we cross the border just because we want to," Vanessa said. "No, we just had to follow our parents."
Now 13 years later, Vanessa still lives in fear of deportation despite being an otherwise model citizen.
"I'm doing everything right," she explained. "I'm paying taxes, I own my house, I send my kids to private school, I work, my husband works ... We just can't move on."
When it comes to 287(g) Vanessa has mixed feelings.
"I'm not against the law at all but it's a law the federal government should take care of, not local enforcement," she said.
It's the kind of authority Representative Nelson Hardwick, however, believes is needed at a local level.
"The federal government tells us every day that immigration is a federal level problem, it's not a local problem," Hardwick said. "But to house and feed people while they're waiting for trial is a big cost to Horry county for illegals."
In 2005, the program was funded at 5 million dollars. Since then, the federal funding has skyrocketed to 68 million dollars just this year.
The Horry County Sheriffs office has been working to get a piece of that pie. They have been looking into the program for four years now, saying they see an average of 125 illegal immigrants coming through the doors of the jail every month. In fact, the plans for the new jail tower at J. Reuben Long Detention Center already includes space to house 287(g) equipment.
"If we were to be funded for 287(g) jail enforcement officers, no one that comes through the jail would slip through the cracks," Fox explained. He says under their current program their limited database can only catch a certain portion of illegal immigrants. Under 287g he says illegal immigrants would be identified as being a foreign-born in the country illegally. Trained officers would then submit paperwork to ICE in Charleston wher they make the determination to detain or release the person in custody.
Fox says the move to apply for 287(g) comes after what he calls a public outcry for reform.
"They want people in the country illegally identified and if they can be removed, they want them removed," Fox explained.
Vanessa says she is all for the program if it sticks to its main focus of deporting criminal illegal immigrants.
"[If] they're drug traffickers or whatever, send them back," Vanessa said emphatically. "I wouldn't mind them doing that. But not sending somebody back that just came here to better themselves and give their family a better life."
Tom Fox says someone like Vanessa would probably not be affected by 287(g).
"A person that is behaving as a normal citizen more than likely would not be under an investigative umbrella," Fox explained. "It could mean that they do at some point in time knock on her door but they don't go around and just blanket an area. There has to be something of a nature that will cause them to investigate it."
Earlier this year the Office of the Inspector General released a report saying their investigation into the implementation of 287(g) on a local level did "Not show that 287(g) resources have been focused on aliens who pose the greatest risk to the public."
Since the report was released in March, ICE says they have reformed the entire program by "strengthening public safety and ensuring consistency in immigration enforcement across the country by prioritizing the arrest and detention of criminal aliens."
Tom Fox says if implemented in Horry County, the program would remain completely transparent so the public can monitor who is being impacted by the program. "You have to put yoru faith in the people that you select to become Task Force Officers and Jail Enforcement Officers," Fox said. "Other than that, it will be closely supervisedand monitored.:
Fox says while their officers would be able to identify illegal immigrants through 287(g), the decision to deport will be left up to the ICE officials in Charleston.
So far only four counties (Beaufort, Lexington, York, and Charleston) have been approved through ICE for the 287g program.
Since January 2006, ICE credits 287(g) with identifying more than 185,000 potentially removable illegal immigrants across the country, mostly at local jails.
ICE says one of the biggest benefits to their 287(g) partners is that they are able to better identify who they have in custody. The training for 287(g) certified officers is conducted at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center's Charleston South Carolina campus.
287(g) first came on the scene as an addition to the Immigration and Nationality Act under the to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996.
Fox says in order to have their full application approved they must take certain steps including reaching out for legislators' support of the program before they can expect official approval our of Washington D.C. in January.