HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - For the first time, the Horry County Sheriff's Office is partnering with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take immigration enforcement one step further.
Horry County is now the fourth county in South Carolina, including Lexington, York and Charleston counties, that partnered with the federal government for this program.
The HCSO reached out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, 11 years ago and had to apply for the 287(g) program, which is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
It is ultimately a fingerprint screening tool, so after a person has been arrested for a criminal violation and booked into the detention center, rather than having an ICE officer go to the facility, the program delegates the authority to booking officers at the sheriff's office to do the screening.
According to HCSO Chief Deputy Tom Fox, the current fingerprint screening can take up to 12 hours to return information on someone's immigration status. The ICE screening will take only 30 minutes.
"Now if someone comes in, we put a detainer on them once we get a notification they are undocumented anyways," Fox said. "All this does, it puts ICE-designated people that are trained here and speeds up the process."
Fox, who served as the director of the J. Reuben Long Detention Center for several years, said four current booking officers will be trained to become designated immigration officers by going through a four-week training program.
Down the road, four more will be trained, according to Fox. He added there are 15 to 20 undocumented immigrants that come through J. Reuben Long Detention Center monthly. The chief deputy is certain this new screening tool, which is helping to ensure transparency and improving potential oversight, will discover even more.
"Everything is done in the detention center, so if an immigrant is here and they don't get arrested, they will never be touched by the program," Fox said. "No one is going to be out actively enforcing this law at job sites or at homes. It's only when somebody is incarcerated."
Bryan Cox, the Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesman for the southern region, said the decision as to whether or not a county wants to join is up to its individual leaders..
Cox notes that the fingerprinting process allows county law enforcement to know exactly who they have in custody, as some suspects will be arrested under different names in different jurisdictions.
HCSO expects the new ICE screening and trained officers will be ready to go by spring 2018.