Haitian detainees fill cells at Charleston Co. Detention Center

Haitian detainees fill cells at Charleston Co. Detention Center
(Source: AP)
(Source: AP)

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - Charleston County Detention officers will be dealing with larger numbers of illegal immigrants for the foreseeable future, according to a Sheriff's Office spokesman.

Major Eric Watson said 125 Haitian detainees were transported to the Al Cannon Detention Center Monday, with an additional 125 expected this week.

The detainees are brought to the detention center as part of a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"They're in a final stage of the deportation phase," Watson said. "Once ICE determines when they're going to be released back to Haiti they'll go from our custody back into ICE custody."

According to Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE, detainees are transported to the jail, temporarily housed, and then transported to one of three facilities in Georgia before they're deported back to their homeland.

"In past cases illegal immigrants who were arrested in South Carolina were transported to Charleston County," Cox said.

ICE allots for 34,000 detainees to be housed at facilities across the nation. Currently that number of detainees is hovering around 40,000 which means the agency is seeking more room at its partnering facilities.

"To accommodate various operational demands, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely transfers detainees to other detention facilities based on available resources and the needs of the agency," Cox said in a statement last week. "As appropriate, ICE coordinates with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which administers the nation's immigration courts, to ensure the continuity of any ongoing legal proceedings."

Cox added Wednesday the detainees who are could be heading to Charleston County may be coming from other facilities across the country like Texas or Arizona.

"We're just trying to re-allocate people," he said.

According to Watson, in the past the detention center has taken in five to 10 detainees at a time, never a group of the current size.

"We're qualified to do it," Watson said. "We have the manpower to manage the Haitian detainees, so it's not the newest part of jail operations."

The jail can hold more than 1,900 inmates; right now the population is hovering at 1,200.  With another 125 detainees expected later this week, Watson said the influx should not affect operations drastically.

"The actual manpower is still the same," he said. "We will probably be requiring them to do some overtime to help balance it out, but they will continue to work 12 hour shifts."

The detainees aren't paid for by taxpayer dollars either, at least not directly.

The federal government has a budget set aside which pays for the housing of the detainees. Cox said the agency pays Charleston County $55 per day, per inmate.
Watson said he expects the Haitian detainees to be at the detention center for roughly a month, which would be around $400,000 total for the 250 ICE detainees.

The Haitian detainees could be seeing longer wait times for deportation because of the infrastructure in Haiti following Hurricane Matthew, according to Watson.

In 2015 ICE deported roughly 235,000 illegal immigrants nationwide. Currently 2,500 Haitian detainees are in custody for deportation, according to Cox.

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