Immigrant defense groups see as irrelevant and costly the activation of the South Carolina Immigration Enforcement Unit, which will not be allowed to question the legal status of detainees, although it will be able to pursue criminals.

South Carolina's SB 20, one of the harshest anti-immigrant laws in the nation, set forth the establishment of the country's first state-level immigration enforcement unit.

The state had to negotiate an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for at least 12 agents to receive training in Program 287(g) and be put out on the streets to seek foreign criminals.

However, ICE this year discontinued the units established in partnership with state and local law enforcement considering them to be "not very effective."

"The local officers will not be able to arrest undocumented people, that is our job, but the immigration unit can investigate people who commit state crimes and we can help them," ICE spokesman Vincent Picard told Efe.

Even so, the commander of the new South Carolina unit insists that six agents will work undercover in operations concerning cases of human trafficking, drugs and other serious crimes involving undocumented immigrants instead of looking for them on the roadways or in workplaces.

Ivan Segura, the vice president of the Council of Mexicans in the Carolinas, says it is ridiculous that the state has approved an immigration unit that lacks the ability to do the work for which it was created.

"This is an unnecessary public expense proposed by supposed fiscally conservative politicians in times of economic crisis," Segura said.

The state legislature allocated $1.3 million to establish the unit, which has hired six of the 12 agents and spent more than $400,000.

"Don't let them come along with the story that the unit's going to solve high-priority crimes because we have other departments that are tasked with that job to do that," Segura said.

Tammy Besherse, an attorney for the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, told Efe that the creation of the unit was not blocked last December by a federal judge as had occurred with other SB 20 provisions.

"The agents will be stepping into territory about which they will not have any knowledge or training, and that is dangerous," Besherse warned.

Roberto Belen, a community activist with the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, emphasized that only federal agents are authorized to investigate cases involving drugs and human trafficking.

"They are outside their jurisdiction and, besides, their work will be irrelevant. So, what are they going to devote themselves to if they can't arrest undocumented people? This (unit) makes no sense," he said. EFE