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A Quick Explainer: What's the Rift Between Florida Sheriffs and Homeland Security?

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.s.

This week, sheriffs across Florida publicly challenged the Department of Homeland Security for singling out agencies it says won’t help enforce immigration law. Meanwhile, sheriff's offices are accusing DHS of misleading the public in a request, citing the agency for making requests that would violate people's civil rights.

Here's a short explanation of what's happening:

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has started releasing weekly lists called "Declined Detainer Outcome Reports." In these reports, ICE lists “non cooperative” law enforcement agencies—sheriff’s offices or jails that are not complying with ICE's requests to detain certain people as part of its immigration enforcement.

What exactly is ICE asking local sheriff’s offices to do in order for them to cooperate?

  • Currently, sheriff's offices may arrest someone for a local civil or criminal offense; then, if they learn that the person that has been arrested is foreign born, then they will report that data to ICE. What ICE wants is for local law enforcement to detain that person for up to 48 hours, which gives ICE enough time to step in and take over custody to prepare a deportation. ICE sends a form that’s called a detainer request to the sheriff or jail. It's a formal request to detain someone. However, sheriffs say they need some sort of warrant or probable cause to detain someone. Otherwise it’s a violation of constitutional law and the individual's civil rights.
  • “We’re being asked to do something by the federal government that at least nine—nine—federal courts across this country have said we can’t do,” Pinellas County sheriff Bob Gualtieri at a press conference with other sheriffs in Orlando on Tuesday.
  • So far four Florida agencies have been labeled as non-cooperative: Alachua, Broward, Marion counties and the St. Lucie County jail.

So Florida sheriffs don’t have the legal authority to actually detain someone without probable cause?

  • No. And detaining someone under suspicion of illegal citizen status or for any immigration matter is beyond their jurisdiction. That’s something only federal agencies have power to do.

How is DHS determining which agencies, exactly, to put on the list?

  • That’s unclear. Sheriff Sadie Darnell of Alachua County which has been named so far on all the lists issued, says there is no rhyme or reason. She’s asked ICE about it and says she’s not gotten a response.
  • “We are standing strong from the standpoint of knowing the law and we’re adhering to their constitutional rights. We’re not going to seize someone—a human being—unless we have probable cause to do so under criminal law or authority to do so under civil law,” she said at Tuesday's press conference in Orlando.
  • ICE maintains that its detainer requests are legal. ICE is asking that law enforcement let them know ahead of time that someone is going to be released so they can make arrangements to take them into custody to deport them.

Deportations have been happening before the Trump administration. What has changed?

  • Under former President Barack Obama’s administration there was a priority enforcement program. It targeted people who had committed crimes. But President Trumps has expanded the so called "categories for removal." A representative for ICE who has been with the agency for three years told 90.7 News that operations in north and central Florida have remained relatively standard.

There’s a clear rift between local and federal agencies. What sort of solutions are the sheriffs proposing to what is happening?

  • The Florida Sheriffs Association is calling for stronger communication with ICE. Pinellas County has a cooperative agreement with ICE through the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice occupies part of the jail and works locally with law enforcement to issue its own warrants to potential deportees. That’s a model the Pinellas County sheriff wants to see expanded across the country.

Members of Florida’s ACLU is weighing in. What are they saying?

  • Florida’s ACLU sent letters to 67 county law enforcement offices. They’re calling on sheriff’s to quote “neither enforce unconstitutional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention requests, nor participate in the 287(g) program. That program allows certain state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law. The ACLU says that program has led to racial profiling.


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