COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s governor wants the legislature to pass a law next year requiring cities and counties prove they are checking the immigration or citizenship status of anyone charged with a crime.
There is no proof they aren’t currently doing that, and Gov. Henry McMaster agreed, saying Monday that South Carolina now has no “sanctuary cities” that shield people in the country illegally. But he said it’s better to solve a problem before it begins.
“Fixing the roof after it started raining is not the right time to be fixing it,” McMaster said at a news conference in Greenville.
South Carolina passed an immigration law in 2008 that prohibits counties and cities and their employees from not reporting people in the country illegally or circumventing immigration law.
But McMaster said the state has no way of knowing if jails are following that law.
So the legislation, which hasn’t been written yet, would require the State Law Enforcement Division to create a way to certify local governments are checking immigration and citizenship status of people charged with crimes. If they aren’t, South Carolina would withhold a portion of their state funding and government employees could be charged with perjury, according to legislators drafting the bill.
“We want to trust people, but we want to verify,” McMaster said.
Jails across South Carolina said the proposal wouldn’t change much of what they do every day.
The jail in Charleston County has been checking the immigration status of the roughly 65 people a day booked into the facility since 2010. It is part of a deal with the federal government to temporarily detain others from South Carolina and North Carolina in the U.S. illegally, Charleston County Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson said in an email.
Solving a problem that doesn’t even exist is not the best way of reaching a solution on problems with immigration, said Evelyn Lugo, president of the South Carolina Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve had this problem forever. Why can’t we come together, have a conversation and find a solution?” Lugo said. “We have to stop this nonsense — the rhetoric — it’s coming from the top.”
McMaster said he did not talk to President Donald Trump about immigration when the president came to South Carolina to raise money for McMaster last week.
“I know how he feels about it. They are doing exactly the same thing we are doing,” McMaster said.
The governor was in Greenville on Monday to address a conference of Japanese business owners interested in investing in the U.S. He said they are another reason to ban sanctuary cities because businesses want to invest in places with law and order.
“Although the welcome mat is out for everyone, it is not out for those who would violate our laws,” the governor said.