Why SC cities may have to prove they are not protecting illegal immigrants

South Carolina cities and counties soon may have to prove they are not “sanctuary cities,” providing safe harbor to undocumented immigrants.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster and Republican lawmakers said Monday they will push to require cities and counties to swear in a statement that they are cooperating with federal immigration agents and allowing immigration laws to be enforced.

Jurisdictions that fail to comply with federal immigration laws would lose their state money for three years, McMaster said, announcing the proposal in Greenville.

McMaster and GOP lawmakers said Monday they were not aware of any sanctuary cities in South Carolina, home to an estimated 85,000 undocumented immigrants in 2014, according to the American Immigration Council.

Sanctuary cities do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities or adopt policies that block immigration enforcement, already illegal in South Carolina. They also are common targets for Republicans whose anti-immigration policies and rhetoric resonate with GOP primary voters.

McMaster’s proposal comes as President Donald Trump, McMaster’s political ally, wages his own battle against sanctuary cities. Through executive action, Trump has tried to ban federal spending in sanctuary cities, but his efforts have been blocked in federal courts.

The S.C. proposal also comes as McMaster and 124 members of the Republican-dominated state House gear up for 2018 election-year contests.

McMaster’s top rival for the GOP nomination for governor, Republican Catherine Templeton, accused McMaster of trying to distract voters from other news in Columbia.

“Sanctuary cities should be outlawed, and that is why they already are in South Carolina,” said Templeton, who was a member of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s cabinet in 2011 when the state passed an immigration law.

State Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, will sponsor legislation building off of the 2011 state law by providing a way to ensure cities and counties are following it.

State law now requires state and local officials check the legal status of people who have been arrested and charged with a crime.

The new proposal, if it becomes law, would require the State Law Enforcement Division to figure out how to verify local governments are following immigration laws by July 1 of each year. Public officials could face perjury charges for falsifying compliance documentation to SLED.

Asked for any evidence of sanctuary cities existing in South Carolina, McMaster said he is not aware of any.

“As far as I know there has been no city to make that announcement,” McMaster said. “What we are doing here is to make clear that such an announcement will not be accepted. We want the people of this state to know that law enforcement is doing its job in South Carolina.”

McMaster added, “The people have no way of knowing if the local municipalities are complying with federal immigration law.

“We want to trust our people, but we want to verify.”

Evelyn Lugo, president of the S.C. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said solving immigration problems does not include trying to fix a problem that does not exist, according to the Associated Press.

“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.”