Even Republicans are criticizing McMaster’s anti-sanctuary city bill in South Carolina

“This is not an actual problem in South Carolina,” Republican State Rep. Micah Caskey said of Gov. Henry McMaster’s sanctuary cities bill.

A bill passed the South Carolina House of Representatives last Thursday that would make city and county police departments prove that they are complying with federal immigration officials, an attack on “sanctuary cities” that seek to protect low-priority immigrants from deportation.  

Although the bill passed the Republican-dominated House, some Republicans believe it will not do anything to help immigration officials or reduce undocumented immigration. State Rep. Micah Caskey, who has been vocal about his criticism of Governor Henry McMaster, told The State that the bill will do more to help the governor’s 2018 reelection bid than actually help the state of South Carolina.

“This is a solution searching for a problem,” Caskey said, reportedly in front of McMaster’s staff. “This is the sort of political bill that is designed to pander for the purpose of campaigns.”

Specifically, the bill requires city and county police departments to swear in a statement that they will cooperate with federal immigration agents and federal immigration policies.

This means that when an undocumented immigrant is arrested — for whatever reason — local police swears to respect a detainer request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This request asks police departments to detain undocumented immigrants in custody for 48 hours after they would normally be released so that ICE can come to the station and eventually deport the person. 

State Rep. Bruce Bannister, one of the bill’s sponsors, told The State that the bill proactively eliminates so-called sanctuary cities. “What we’re trying to do, which is highly unusual in South Carolina, is identify something before it’s a problem and let everybody know it’s not going to become a problem.”

“Right now, the public has no way of knowing if local municipalities are complying with state and federal immigration laws,” Bannister said in a press release issued by the Governor’s office. “This bill provides a necessary fix, and reaffirms our commitment to law and order.”

But according to Caskey, “This is not an actual problem in South Carolina.” According to The Center for Immigration Studies, no city or municipality in South Carolina has been identified as a sanctuary city. In 2008, South Carolina passed a law that compels cities and municipalities to report undocumented employees.

South Carolina lawmakers have been vocal in their support for harsh immigration policies. In 2011, then Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill that allowed police officers to verify the immigration status of people at traffic stops, but that law was struck down in 2014. After Haley was appointed to be Ambassador to the United Nations, Henry McMaster became governor.

McMaster proposed the sanctuary cities bill in late October of last year in order to, as he put it, protect businesses and people from “lawlessness and people who disregard the law.” It would deny funds to any government entity or “sanctuary city” that does not comply with ICE detainer requests.

In addition, McMaster’s executive budget seeks to relocate South Carolina’s Immigration Enforcement Unit from the Department of Public Safety to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED). His budget also allows SLED to hire officers to investigate whether local governments and police departments are complying with immigration laws.

The American Immigration Council says that South Carolina has a “small, but growing immigrant population,” and the Pew Research Center estimated that the Palmetto State is home to 85,000 undocumented immigrants, which accounts for less than 2 percent of the state’s population.

Democratic State Rep. Joe McEachern, who was a former sheriff’s deputy, objected to the bill and told The State that officers in South Carolina are already doing a sufficient job dealing with unauthorized immigration. The South Carolina Immigration Enforcement Unit has only seven people serving on its staff and has only made 122 arrests since 2012.

Outside of South Carolina, sanctuary cities have been scrutinized by President Donald Trump. He has signed executive orders that have tried to eliminate funding to cities and municipalities that are identified as sanctuary cities. Critics of sanctuary cities believe that such policies enable crime and protect criminals.

However, several mayors and police chiefs argue that strict federal immigration laws that ban sanctuary cities make cities less safe for residents. The Major Cities Chiefs Police Association issued a position statement in 2013 that denounced federal immigration policy and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) practices that make it easier to deport undocumented immigrants.

“[Federal Immigration policy] undermines the trust and cooperation with immigrant communities which are essential elements of community-oriented policing,” the statement reads. “The lack of clear authority increases the risk of civil liability for local police and government.”

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, an integral member of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, said that local police rely on the cooperation of the immigrant community and that forcing local police to act as immigration officials quickly erodes that trust. As a result of tough immigration policies that frighten undocumented communities, many Latinos refuse to report crimes or act as witnesses out of fear that the police will deport them.

“The bad guys know that many immigrants will not call the police,” Thomas Manger, President of the Major Cities Chief Police Association, testified in a 2015 US Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing. In his testimony, he emphasized that it should not be the job of local police to enforce federal immigration policies; it should be left to federal immigration enforcement.

“It is right to call upon us for actions to protect the public from crime and violence. It is wrong to demand that we engage in matters related solely to immigration enforcement,” Manger said. “[It is wrong to] withhold federal funds to coerce performance of federal duties by local police. This is not why these programs were established.”