LADY'S ISLAND -- Rounding up the "mind-boggling" number of illegal immigrants working in Beaufort County will have a widespread -- and potentially unpopular -- impact on the local economy, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner told a business group Tuesday.
Three deputies will graduate Friday from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement academy in Charleston, and they will be authorized to enforce federal immigration laws in the county.
"When these guys and gals come back, and they're certified by the United States and they can enforce federal law ... that opens the door," Tanner told the Lady's Island Business and Professional Association. "I can't give you excuses that we can't do anything, because now we finally can. And this is the only avenue that gives us the opportunity to do something.
"If we go around Beaufort County and start rounding up folks because they're foreign-born illegals, then what impact do you think that's going to have on the economy of Beaufort County? It's going to have a tremendous impact."
Tanner said he expects a countywide crackdown on illegal immigration might anger some residents, many of whom frequent businesses that employ illegal aliens.
"When we start this ... the general public in Beaufort County, the citizens of Beaufort County are going to start calling me, (Beaufort County administrator) Gary Kubic, County Council members and other folks, saying, 'Hey, y'all need to lighten up a little bit,' " he said.
"When you got golf courses that can't sell a tee time because the grass hasn't been cut, you can't get to your dry cleaners anymore or you go to a restaurant that you always loved and sit down and you've got to wait an hour and a half or two hours because they got a 50 percent cut in employees, we'll have citizens calling us and tell us, 'Y'all need to rethink this.' "
Cracking down on illegal immigrants also could put additional pressure on the already crowded county jail, he said.
The jail has 255 beds, and Tanner said that by the end of Tuesday, the inmate count likely would be more than 400.
"Do you know the pressures put on corrections officers within that system, dealing with that many people?" he said.
"Do you know that the risk that we're having here of a riot inside that jail?" he added. "Do you know the liability that we're assuming for putting that many people inside a facility built for 255? ... So we've got to be careful."
Tanner said an ideal solution to the crowding would be to build another jail. He said there is no room for additional construction at the detention center on Duke Street in Beaufort. He suggested the current jail could be used as a pre-sentencing or short-term facility.