Columbia – In South Carolina, where a tough anti-immigrant law was just enacted, a group of county sheriffs announced Friday a Spanish-language phone line over which Hispanics can report crimes.
Any Latinos who know of an incident or a possible crime in their community can call S.C. Crime Stoppers in their own language at 888-274-6372 at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told a press conference Friday at the state capitol in Columbia that the system ?is secure and anonymous,? and that immigrants have no reason to fear using the service. ?No one is going to ask them about their immigration status ? what interests us is solving crimes, and to do that we need the collaboration of people with information in order to keep the community safe,? he told Efe.
Two weeks ago, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law bill SB 20, an Arizona-style measure that criminalizes the undocumented, and allows law-enforcement agencies to investigate the immigration status of detainees and crime suspects.
It also calls for the creation of the country's first state-level immigration enforcement unit.
?We know that SB 20 will make our job more difficult,? Loff said, but ?not every police force agrees with the measure, because our job is to keep Hispanics from being the victims of criminals.?
Mark Keel, chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, insisted on the importance of expanding the Crime Stoppers program to accommodate residents who speak little or no English.
Friday's announcement was well received by Latino activists.
"Sheriff Lott and other agents of law and order realize that police should concentrate on solving crimes and not be distracted by playing at being immigration officials,? Ivan Segura, a member of the board of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, said.
For Gregory Torrales, the council's president, this signifies a ?victory for Hispanics.?
According to Richland County sheriff's deputies David Soto and Raul Ortiz, their department has worked for years to help provide the security Hispanics need and for the last six years has even had a Spanish-language hot line.
Eraclio Leon, owner of San Jose Mexican Restaurant in Columbia , expressed his gratitude for the efforts of law-enforcement agencies to help Hispanics, but said that right now people are afraid of what might happen.
At the state level, more than 21,000 criminals have been nabbed thanks to some 100,000 leads received by S.C. Crime Stoppers since it began 29 years ago.
?We?re more often the victims of crimes than guilty of them. Fewer than 4 percent of those bandits behind bars in state prisons are Hispanics,? Roberto Belen of the South Carolina Immigration Coalition told Efe.
Figures from the 2010 Census indicate that Hispanics represent 5.1 percent of South Carolina ?s 4.6 million people, up from 2.4 percent in 2000.