York County Sheriff Br-uce Bryant is among the S.C. law enforcement officials backing a plan to build three regional prisons for illegal immigrants awaiting deportation.
Sheriffs are eager to remove the inmates from crowded county jails, where they take up valuable space before they're transferred to the closest federal immigration court in Atlanta.
"These locations would give us an opportunity to warehouse foreign-born illegals awaiting deportation," Beaufort Sheriff P.J. Tanner, one of the primary designers of the plan, told The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News.
Sheriffs view the regional prison idea as a way to accomplish what York County already is doing, Bryant said Monday.
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In October, Bryant's agency became the first in South Carolina to tap into technology from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to determine an inmate's immigration status.
No other county in South Carolina has gained approval to use that approach, known as the federal 287(g) program. If inmates are found to be illegal, they are taken by federal officials to begin deportation proceedings.
About 40 agencies use the program nationwide. Others have applied but haven't gained approval from the Department of Homeland Security.
Now, the hope is that a regional approach would allow the costs to be shared -- and also pull in more help from Washington.
"It just wouldn't behoove immigration (officials) to try to put a 287(g) program in every county jail," Bryant said. "I think it'll work well for the counties to be able to get together."
An average of 25 illegal immigrants are deported from the York County detention center each month through the 287(g) program, according to county figures. Since October, Bryant said 192 have been deported.
The idea is already stirring alarm among advocates for the poor. Some fear it would unfairly punish families by housing their loved ones in facilities several counties away.
Concentrating illegal immigrants in a few jails also might lead to substandard care in those facilities, said the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
"These guards will now know for a fact the inmates aren't here legally," the center told The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. "That could lead to abusive situations."
Under the new proposal, three prisons would hold up to 400 inmates each. Other specifics are unknown, such as who would shoulder the cost and where the sites would be.