A community forum to discuss the recent agreement between 17 Florida Sheriffs and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is scheduled to take place Thursday night in St. Petersburg.
That agreement allows local authorities to hold undocumented immigrants beyond the time they normally would have to be released based on state or local cases. It was announced at a press conference at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo last month, and came about after courts objected to sheriffs making their own decisions based on a civil detainer request. Under the new arrangement, the migrants are booked under federal auspices.
Indivisible FL-13, For Our Future FL, the Allendale United Methodist Church, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Women’s March Pinellas and others have organized the event at the Allendale United Methodist Church.
A press release announcing the event said that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was invited but is unable to attend. Gualtieri confirms that he won’t be available to participate, but says that he’s concerned and frustrated by what he calls misinformation being perpetuated by critics of the agreement.
“What we’re talking about in this area is solely one hundred percent only criminal illegal aliens, and when I see in the literature that’s being distributed that what we’re doing is in the same sentence as ‘dreamers’ is absolutely erroneous, and it’s very concerning, because they’re putting fear into the community needlessly by this misleading information,” he says.
Gualtieri says the agreement does not give his deputies carte blanche to start detaining whomever they believe might be undocumented, contrary to claims by some critics. Instead, he says it’s all about people who have been arrested for violating a law and then later determined to be out of status, a much more narrow population.
“A lot of these these people … either are ignorant about it or they are intentionally misleading and then causing others to be misled and causing concern in the public and in the immigrant communities needlessly, because they’re trying to scare these people.”
At a protest in front of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Ybor City two weeks ago, Father Peter Ruggere of Corpus Christi in St. Petersburg said service is the image expected from local law enforcement, not handing off undocumented immigrants to the federal government.
“We do not expect them to be handymen, cleaner-uppers for ICE. That’s not their job,” he said. “Their job is to serve and protect this community, and that’s why we’re here.”
At a rally in Tampa a week ago, activists put out an “emergency travel advisory” for Florida, warning potential visitors to be cautious about entering a state where racial profiling is occurring.
“We’re also advising that they particularly avoid high-risk areas, such as the counties that are increasing their collaboration with ICE and DHS as well as airports, seaports, Greyhound bus stations, 7-11 convenience stores and gas stations,” said Briann Gonyea, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations.
There have been incidents where the undocumented have been picked up on Greyhound buses and in 7-11s, though in most cases reported it’s been at the hands of Border Patrol officers, who work for Customs and Border Protection, an arm of the Homeland Security Department.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Border Patrol officers are working without permission on private property and setting up checkpoints up to 100 miles away from the border under a little-known federal law that is being used more widely in the Trump administration’s aggressive crackdown on illegal immigration.
Gualtieri says that’s not what sheriff deputies in Florida are up to.
“It’s all nonsense, ” he says. But he says if a person is undocumented and committing crimes, “We’re going to help ICE get you out of here, and that’s the way it should be.”
Gualtieri says that of the estimated 11-13 million undocumented people in the U.S., approximately one million have committed crimes – and that’s who he’s concerned about (In 2016 the Migration Policy Institute estimated that 820,000 of the 11 million unauthorized have been convicted of a crime).
“This isn’t about Sheriff Gualtieri,” said CAIR Florida attorney Robert Sichta .”This is about some law enforcement agencies deciding to ride the wave of a new and dangerous shift in policy that attempts to divide our communities into persons who deserve the protection of the Constitution and those who do not. The Constitution is still the law of the land. People are not criminals until found guilty. Existing detention laws follow the Constitution. The fact that any local government would expose itself to liability from unlawful detentions boggles the mind.”
Marc Rodrigues of the Hillsborough Community Protection Coalition rejects the idea that activists like himself are promoting fear, saying there’s already enough of that in immigrant communities due to the current political climate.
“Sheriff Gualtieri can talk about safety all he wants, but members of the community we speak with are in fact feeling less safe as a result of these policies, less likely to approach law enforcement if they are victims of crime,” he said.
“The reality is that that what is often considered a misdemeanor infraction for a U.S. citizen that is resolved routinely, thousands of times every day across this country through the paying of a fine or the posting of bond, results, for an immigrant, in utter life-shattering devastation,” Rodrigues added.
“When an undocumented immigrant repeatedly drives without a license to be able to work and to keep a roof over their head and food on the table in a state that won’t allow that immigrant to apply for a driving permit, that person is deemed a ‘felon’ and subjected to these Sheriff-ICE collaboration, detention, deport
The 17 counties participating include: Bay, Brevard, Charlotte, Columbia, Hernando, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Suwannee and Walton.
An organizer for Thursday’s event, Vickie Dunn, says that her group would have welcomed Gualtieri speaking to the group at a later date, “but that option wasn’t offered.”
The roundtable discussion is scheduled to take place Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Allendale United Methodist Church, 3803 Haines Rd. N. in St. Petersburg. Those who plan on attending are advised to RSVP online.