How arrests for local crimes lead to deportation

Crime & Safety

A man arrested in the Lowcountry for a DUI is facing a possible deportation under an executive order by President Trump.

His arrest adds to the nearly 8,000 who have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Georgia and the Carolinas in 2018 thus far. 

“A common misconception is that local law enforcement is somehow empowered to make immigration arrests, and that is simply not accurate,” said Bryan Cox, spokesman for the Southern region of ICE.

Law enforcement makes arrests based on local criminal charges. It’s when they’re booked that they’re flagged by ICE.

For example, in the Lowcountry in the past couple of months, two people have been arrested for drinking and driving and hitting other cars.

“If a local law enforcement agency arrests a person on a local criminal charge in that particular jurisdiction, with nothing to do with their immigration status,” Cox explained, “Then once that person is booked into a detention center, if they are removable from the country, if they are a foreign national subject to removal, the issuance of a detainer is notice to that.”

It’s a program in county jails across the U.S. called Secure Communities where the national crime database (NCIC) links with Homeland Security to identify someone who is either an illegal immigrant or a legal immigrant “subject to removal” based on a crime. 

The program was in full effect in 2013 but was suspended in 2014. It relaunched in 2017 under an executive order by President Donald Trump. 

In one year, more than 43,000 convicted criminals in the U.S. have been deported through the system.

Both Chatham and Beaufort counties see about 2 holds a month.

“Say you come in here for speeding or suspended license, they put a hold on them,” said Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher. “They won’t have a court date for 30 or 45 days, so we release them on subpoena, on that charge since it’s a misdemeanor, and then call ICE and tell them they got 24 hours to come pick them up and they’re gone out of here within 24 hours.”

In Beaufort County, they wait 48 hours. Cox says they ask law enforcement agencies to work with them and give them a 48-hour notice before releasing anyone they have asked to detain. 

Wilcher said, “I’ve got 1660 inmates in jail and I’m 72 officers short, I don’t have the room to just keep them in here.”

He adds that ICE staff out of Charleston usually come within a day.

In 2017, nearly 14,000 people were detained by ICE in Georgia and the Carolinas. About 70 percent were convicted criminals and the majority have already been deported.

Cox says an immigrant who is here legally can still be detained. They must be convicted of the crime they were arrested for and then a judge will decide their fate.

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