The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is among several South Carolina immigrant-rights groups calling for the suspension of a federal program designed to curb illegal immigration.
In a letter this week, the coalition asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to stop enforcing a program called Secure Communities, which is in place in more than 3,000 jurisdictions nationwide, including Beaufort County.
The program, operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, runs fingerprints of all people arrested by local officials through a federal database to determine their immigration status. If they are found to be living in the country illegally, they are subject to deportation, regardless of the severity of the crimes for which they were initially arrested.
The group also asked Napolitano to terminate four "287(g)" agreements in South Carolina delegating immigration-agent authority to state and local police.
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"Under these racial profiling laws, citizens and non-citizens alike in South Carolina have reason to fear that they will be harassed and targeted because of how they look or speak, subjected to pre-textual arrest and prolonged detention, and separated from their families," wrote Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. "We urge the federal government to act to prevent a civil rights crisis in our state."
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner disagreed.
"It's a great program and has been a huge benefit for public safety and law enforcement," he said. "It gives us a way to get proper identification of foreign-born illegals."
He said the county has used Secure Communities for about two years, adding he's comfortable with the authority the program gives his deputies.
"If you boil it down, it's all homeland security, what we do," he said. "This is something we needed years ago."
In addition to the ACLU, the letter was also submitted by the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Carolina Lutheran Outreach Centers, the Council of Mexicans in the Carolinas, the Hispanic Leadership Council, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, S.C Immigration Coalition, and the SC Progressive Network.