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Florida Sheriffs Blast Trump On Immigration Cooperation

Florida Sheriffs Association

Florida sheriffs are slamming President Donald Trump’s administration for saying they are refusing to detain undocumented people. They said they are cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But they can’t detain someone against their civil rights.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said the Department of Homeland Security report accusing Florida counties of refusing to hold undocumented immigrants is wrong. He said federal immigration officials won’t work with local sheriffs to lawfully detain undocumented people.

“At the very least, it’s a public perception nightmare for sheriffs across the country," he said. "We support and cooperate with ICE and their efforts to identify and deport criminal aliens. However, we also swear under oath to protect, support and defend the U-S Constitution.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January requiring Homeland Security to publish weekly reports naming local jurisdictions that don’t honor immigration holds. Counties listed as being uncooperative or having criteria for accepting detainers include Saint Lucie, Broward, Marion and Alachua counties. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said she doesn’t know why the county is on the list.

“We have asked repeatedly for someone on the federal side to explain to us how the report is complied, on what basis, what criteria is being used," she said. "And none of that explanation is being given to us.”

The sheriffs said the problem is the detainers. ICE officers send requests called detainers to sheriffs and jails asking them to hold someone in custody after their local criminal cases are closed. So after charges are dismissed or they’ve completed their jail sentence, the detainers allow ICE up to two days to check the person’s immigration status and decide whether to deport them.

In the U.S., the government can’t keep someone locked up unless they’re given due process, which requires law enforcement to show probable cause and get a warrant authorized by a judge. Federal courts have ruled that detainers are voluntary and local governments are liable if they hold someone unlawfully.

Similar problems are playing out all over the country. Wayne Evans is the attorney for the Florida Sheriff’s Association. He said he’s watching an immigration detainer case heard by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case earlier this week. Cambodian immigrant Sreynuon Lunn argues he should have been freed from jail in February after the state dropped criminal charges against him. But a Boston judge declined to release him because of a detainer. Lunn’s attorney argues the judge overstepped his bounds. The case could have implications for local authorities in Florida and across the country.

Department of Justice Attorney Joshua Press argues states have a built-in right to detain people in the country illegally. He says there’s no law limiting local cooperation with ICE agents.

“Without having any sort of identified limit, then if the Commonwealth or its officers, or in this case the Boston Municipal Court, wants to cooperate with the federal government, we don’t see any particular reason why that could not happen in this case,” he said.

Press also said newly issued detainers will have a warrant attached. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said that solves nothing because they’re not warrants signed by a judge and can only be served by immigration or Border Patrol officers.

“It says that warrant, what they call an I-200 or an I-205 form, and I’ve got one here in front of me," he said. "It says on there who can serve it and it is not us.”

The Department of Homeland Security has published just two reports calling out local governments for declining detainer requests. The report says it shouldn’t be the only factor in judging the level of local cooperation with immigration officers.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.