Gov. Henry McMaster’s plan to ensure S.C. cities aren’t harboring illegal immigrants is a step closer to passage Thursday, but a fellow Republican lawmaker blasted it as political pandering ahead of the 2018 election.
“This is a solution searching for a problem,” state Rep. Micah Caskey, a critic of McMaster’s, declared Wednesday at a S.C. House hearing, with the governor’s chief of staff sitting nearby. “This is the sort of political bill that is designed to pander for the purpose of campaigns.
“This is not an actual problem in South Carolina.”
The bill, pitched by McMaster and three House Republicans, would require South Carolina’s cities and counties prove to the State Law Enforcement Division that they are not sanctuary cities, ignoring federal immigration laws.
South Carolina has no sanctuary cities, though it was home to roughly 85,000 illegal immigrants in 2014, according to the American Immigration Council.
“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,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville.
A House panel passed the bill Thursday over the objections of Caskey and state Rep. Joe McEachern, D-Richland, a former sheriff’s deputy who said S.C. police officers already are doing a fine job on immigration.
Caskey said the proposal would place another burden on already-overworked State Law Enforcement Division agents, who should be focusing on other problems, including public corruption, human trafficking or the opioid epidemic.
“These sorts of political bills to propel campaigns help no one,” said Caskey, who also slammed McMaster over the governor’s opposition to a gas-tax hike last year. “When we see this become a problem, I will be here in support of it.”
McMaster, the front-runner in June’s GOP gubernatorial primary, said the bill isn’t a campaign stunt. Instead, he said, the proposal ultimately will save lives.
“South Carolinians believe in law enforcement. They believe in the rule of law,” the Richland Republican said. “We are not going to allow our reputation as a place to live, a place to raise children and conduct business to be sullied by the congregation of people who are breaking the law.”
If SLED needs more money or staff to make the proposal work, Bannister said, it should ask lawmakers when the House begins debating the state’s $8 billion general fund budget next week. “I think that’ll be very favorably received in the General Assembly, especially in the House.”
The governor’s executive budget would move South Carolina’s Immigration Enforcement Unit to SLED from the Department of Public Safety. McMaster also proposes money for two more immigration officers at SLED and another officer to determine whether local governments are complying with state and federal immigration laws.
The House’s earliest draft of the budget does not include that money.
Efforts to reach SLED for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.