Speakers from Tampa Bay’s faith-based, immigration and progressive communities condemned a recent immigration detention agreement between 17 Florida Sheriffs and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
At a Friday news conference held in front of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office annex in Ybor City — which depicts a sheriff protecting the community — Father Peter Ruggere from 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.”
Under the agreement announced last month at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Largo, law enforcement agencies now will have “housing agreements” with ICE that allow agents more time to pick up arrested undocumented immigrants from local jails.
Sheriff’s offices will hold undocumented immigrants under arrest for up to 48 hours after their scheduled release time — a policy called “basic ordering agreements.”
This new protocol calls for ICE to send a booking form that transfers custody of the detainees from local jails to federal immigration authorities.
In 2014, state and federal judges dismantled ICE detainer processes taking place, primarily because probable cause wasn’t explicitly established in requests to detain specific incarcerated people living in the country illegally.
Leading the recently enacted agreement was Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and it has been embraced by Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister, who said the deal is something the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office had already been doing.
The protest took place as the number of arrests made by ICE climbed to a three-year high in fiscal year 2017, which according to data from the agency is the most substantial percentage increase in Florida.
“It’s a scary moment to be undocumented,” said Nancy Palacios, a beneficiary of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) program and an organizer for Faith in Florida.
Approximately 690,000 people in the U.S. are in the DACA program, but it expires in less than a month unless Congress intervenes. DACA shields some illegal immigrants from deportation, but those protections will begin to evaporate in mere weeks if nothing is done to alleviate the program.
Many of the speakers Friday decried breaking up families.
One of the more high-profile local DACA incidents has been Plant City resident Luis Blanco, who was deported initially from the U.S. to Mexico in 1998 but returned in 1999.
On Thursday, Blanco was deported to Reynoso, Mexico, said Reverend Andy Oliver from the Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg.
“What happened to the Blanco family is evil, ” said Oliver. “What happens to families every day is evil. The actions of Sheriff Chad Chronister and Gualtieri are evil and unconstitutional. Detaining immigrants without cause isn’t their job.”
“The Sheriff and ICE collaboration is unconstitutional, draconian and immoral,” said civil rights coordinator Aida Mackic of the Council on American Islamic Relations Florida. “Victims of crimes of all statuses will be afraid to approach the police and report crimes, thus making our communities less safe.”
At last month’s news conference in Largo, Gualtieri said the agreement was not a legal mandate, but a partnership. He hoped other counties throughout the state — and soon, other areas throughout the country — will join.
The 17 counties in Florida that are part of the agreement are Pinellas, Lee, Manatee, Bay, Walton, Hernando, Brevard, Polk, Indian River, Charlotte, Monroe, Sarasota, Columbia, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Hillsborough and Pasco.
Danny Alvarez, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Dept., said the organization would not comment on today’s protest. Alvarez has briefed Hispanic media markets in recent days about the department’s disagreements with the protesters, and says he will speak more to the local media about the issue in the coming days.
Meanwhile, immigration rights groups are suing ICE for allegedly targeting immigration activists for possible deportation. The lawsuit, reported by The Intercept, claims ICE was targeting outspoken immigration activists for surveillance and deportation “in order to silence them.”
(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco.)