Feds: Hundreds of S.C. Illegal Immigrants Deported Annually

August 13, 2014

Investigative Reports

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ICE PoliceWhile Gov. Nikki Haley recently expressed frustration about 350 immigrant children placed with sponsors in South Carolina, hundreds of arrested illegal immigrants in the Palmetto State are deported every year, federal records show.

From federal fiscal year 2012 through July 21 of this year, a total of 1,259 undocumented immigrants in South Carolina were deported through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “287 (g)” program, according to figures provided to The Nerve by ICE, the largest investigative division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, from Oct. 27, 2008, through May 31 of this year, 3,712 illegal immigrants in South Carolina were deported through ICE’s “Secure Communities” program, federal records show.

The “Secure Communities” program, which operates in all of South Carolina’s 46 counties, relies on Homeland Security fingerprint records to identify arrested undocumented immigrants previously convicted of crimes or in immigration databases for other reasons, according to ICE’s website.

The 287 (g) program, which operates in Charleston, Lexington and York counties, involves identifying undocumented immigrants who don’t have fingerprint records through screenings with selected state or local law enforcement officials authorized to administer the program in their jurisdictions.

In June, longtime Lexington County Sheriff James Metts was indicted on federal charges that he accepted bribes to help several county jail inmates detained through the 287 (g) program. A pretrial conference for Metts, who is suspended from office and remains free on bond, is set for Sept. 3 in U.S. District Court in Columbia.

A 2011 study by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., estimated there were 55,000 unauthorized immigrants in South Carolina, though other immigrant population projections have been higher. Haley last month publicly expressed frustration over the lack of information about 350 immigrant children placed with sponsors in South Carolina after crossing into the U.S. illegally and being taken into custody; that number has since grown to 434, according to a story today in The State newspaper.

Asked if law enforcement is lagging behind in identifying criminal immigrants in South Carolina, ICE spokesman Vincent Picard told The Nerve on Tuesday: “I wouldn’t be able to comment on it. Our focus has been on identifying people who are in jails that have been arrested.”

In 2011, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston blocked the most controversial sections of the state’s new immigration law from taking effect, including parts of the law that would have required immigrants to carry registration papers, and would have made it a state crime to knowingly transport or house illegal immigrants. But police can continue to check the immigration status of those lawfully detained for other crimes, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in an Arizona case.

ICE records provided to The Nerve show that from federal fiscal year 2012 through July 21, a total of 714 undocumented immigrants identified through the 287 (g) program in Charleston County were deported. In Lexington and York counties, a total of 400 and 145 illegal immigrants, respectively, were deported during that period. The federal records noted that the listed “removals” were “not necessarily due to an initial encounter in the same fiscal year.”

Picard could not immediately provide a breakdown of the alleged crimes of the immigrants detained through the 287 (g) program. If the immigrants are convicted of their crimes, they must serve their sentences before being deported, he said, adding that the time period before deportation varies case by case.

Mexico typically is the top country of origin, followed by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, Picard said.

Officials at the Lexington and Charleston Sheriff’s departments declined comment on their 287 (g) programs when contacted this week by The Nerve, referring questions to ICE representatives.

After Metts was indicted, ICE assigned one of its own officers to the Lexington County Detention Center to directly oversee the 287 (g) program there. Picard said Tuesday that arrangement would continue indefinitely.

Of the 3,712 immigrants in South Carolina who were deported through the Secure Communities program since Oct. 27, 2008, at least 100 immigrants were removed during the period from each of the following 10 counties, federal records show:

  • Charleston – 1,369;
  • Greenville – 421;
  • Richland – 252;
  • Horry – 232;
  • Berkeley – 186;
  • Lexington – 176;
  • Beaufort – 160;
  • York – 126;
  • Spartanburg – 109; and
  • Florence – 108

Picard said he didn’t know why Charleston County’s total was far higher compared to other counties.

Counties participating in the Secure Communities or 287 (g) programs can receive federal payments through the “State Criminal Alien Assistance Program” (SCAAP), which is administered through the U.S. Department of Justice, to help offset the costs of jailing inmates in those programs.

York County, for example, received $599,000 in SCAAP payments from July 1, 2013, through May 31, while Charleston County took in $214,605 during fiscal 2014, county records show. Lexington County’s annual budget shows the county was expected to receive at least $53,522 in SCAAP payments last fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Those figures don’t include other types of federal payments for county jails. Lexington County, for example, received $2.3 million in federal prisoner reimbursements in fiscal 2013 and was budgeted to receive $2.7 million last fiscal year, county records show.

Last fiscal year, 310 federal detainees were booked at the county detention center; 314 were housed the previous fiscal year, according to Maj. John Allard, spokesman for the county sheriff’s department.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.