South Carolina Department of Public Safety Director Leroy Smith on Wednesday picked retired S.C. Highway Patrol Major E.C. Johnson to command the department's new Immigration Enforcement Unit.
The unit, which was created by South Carolina's new, tough anti-illegal immigration law, is still in the process of being formed. And the future of the new law itself remains murky.
Recently, three of the most contentious provisions of the state's law — set to go into effect Jan. 1 — were blocked in federal court. Those included a requirement that law enforcement officials check the immigration status of any suspect they believe may be in the country illegally, and making it a state crime to harbor or transport an illegal immigrant. A third stricken provision was a requirement that immigrants carry federal registration papers.
Other portions of the new law will still go into effect Jan. 1. The ultimate fate of the blocked provisions will likely be determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which will rule on Arizona's anti-illegal immigrant legislation in the coming year. That state's controversial law is very similar to South Carolina's.
After the law goes into effect, and assuming the Supreme Court's decision doesn't affect other provisions, Johnson would essentially become the state's top cop on immigration.
But Johnson's position is still a work in progress.
"We’re in the process of establishing policies and procedures," Smith said in a release about Johnson's appointment and the new unit. "We’re moving forward, but we can’t do anything in terms of enforcement until we get certification. That process can take as long as 18 months and we’re about six months into it."
Smith said Johnson’s duties range from developing the 12-person unit’s policies and procedures to designing uniforms and badges for the unit as outlined according to state law.
Johnson joined the Highway Patrol in 1978 after having served with the 82nd Airborne Division. That service included a tour of duty in Vietnam. A native of Marion County, Johnson and his wife have four sons, according to Smith's office.