LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. — Since 2017, the Lexington County Sheriff's Department has been designated as a federal holding and screening facility for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division, otherwise known as ICE.
For more than six years this program has existed, but where does it stand today?
Lindsay Williams is a spokesperson for ICE. He explains there is one Lexington County deputy who has been trained by ICE who can review charging documents and transfer migrants to ICE custody. This deputy is called a Designated Immigration Officer (DIO).
After four weeks of initial training, this DIO gets a one week refresh training every two years.
Williams tells News 19 this partnership's purpose is to create a larger workforce for processing migrants coming to the United States.
"It becomes a force multiplier for us and what that means is there are only a finite amount of ICE officers able to process people and put them into the immigration proceedings. So when we partner with state or local jails and sheriffs departments, it allows us to expand our efficiency and capability," Williams said.
Every one to three years, both ICE and Lexington County's Sheriff's Department host meetings, like the zoom conference today, to answer any questions and update the public.
These migrants have access to interpreters and are seen for their charges by a judge in Lexington County.
ICE tells News 19 that the average daily migrant population at the Lexington County Detention Center is below five people.
"[Right now] there's two, so that's up to 48 hours and then ICE would determine what happens to those people. Now we are a federal holding facility for various federal agencies to include ICE, so if they choose, then they cross over to a different program, much like the [U.S.] Marshall's office would have under detention," Jay Koon, Lexington County sheriff said.
According to ICE, it has an office of professional responsibility that routinely inspects programs like this one in Lexington County every two years, with the last check of Lexington County's program three months ago to make sure protocol was being followed. ICE tells News 19 it was.
"Each offense, each arrest is case by case so whatever they do to find themselves in Lexington County is separate from ICE, whatever that crime is and once they're inside Lexington County they're screened and if they're foreign born and some of the other things and then from there, officer discretion takes over and it's case by case," Williams said.
ICE offices in our region explain there are also several migrants screened by the Lexington County Sheriff's Department that they don't take action on because of the amount of space available in the jail.
There are two other ICE-capable facilities in the state located in Horry and York counties.
ICE tells News 19 their prior program with Lexington County was terminated around the time former sheriff James Metts was convicted for his role in a scheme to help individuals in the county illegally avoid detection by ICE.
The partnership between ICE and LCSD restarted in 2017 when new sheriff Jay Koon came into office and expressed interest in the program.