Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd joined other sheriffs and state and federal officials in Pinellas County on Monday to announce their participation in the program.
LAKELAND — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is one of 10 Florida county law enforcement agencies to join a new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program intended to expand local agencies’ immigration enforcement powers.
ICE said in a release that the new Warrant Service Officer program is aimed at so-called sanctuary city policies with a “new collaborative program intended for local law-enforcement that wish to honor immigration detainers but are prohibited due to state and local policies that limit cooperation with the agency.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd joined other sheriffs and state and federal officials in Pinellas County on Monday to announce their participation in the program. Selected law enforcement officers “will be nominated, trained and approved by ICE to perform certain limited functions of an immigration officer,” according to the memorandum of agreement between the sheriffs’ offices and the federal agency.
Polk County is not recognized as a sanctuary jurisdiction. Judd said the agreement amounts to “changing one set of paperwork for another set of paperwork.” But it would allow the Sheriff’s Office to serve ICE arrest warrants, notify ICE when undocumented immigrants are arrested and hold them for a limited amount of time until ICE detains them.
Judd said nothing is changing to the “casual observer.” Judd’s office had previously been party to a 2018 agreement with ICE and 17 Florida county jails that sought to allow the jails to hold individuals suspected of immigrating illegally up to 48 hours at ICE’s request. This was a response to a court ruling that found a local jail liable for an unlawful detention after ICE requested the person held. The ICE release noted the agreement is intended for rural jurisdictions that do not have the budget and personnel resources to become 287(g) partners.
The Warrant Service Officer program will give local agencies important tools to stop crime, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said in the release.
“Policies that limit cooperation with ICE undermine public safety, prevent the agency from executing its federally mandated mission and increase the risks for officers forced to make at-large arrests in unsecure locations,” he said. “The WSO program will protect communities from criminal aliens who threaten vulnerable populations with violence, drugs, and gang activity by allowing partner jurisdictions the flexibility to make immigration arrests in their jail or correctional facility.”
After a WSO officer obtains a warrant and does an arrest on behalf of ICE, ICE has 48 hours to come pick up the person who was arrested, unless governed by some other agreement. If ICE does not take the suspect into custody within that period, then the person must be released, according to the agreement.
WSO officers will only arrest those in the confines of the jail at which they work, and ICE will still issue immigration detainers with partner jurisdictions, according to the ICE release.
Daniel Barajas, the executive director of the Auburndale-based Young American Dreamers, said that the move is something his organization has been fighting.
Barajas said that whether a person is a police officer or a judge, they all have something “called discretion,” when they can give a person a warning or a notice to appear in court. He says that any time ICE is involved, “they are gone.”
He said that many undocumented immigrants, when arrested, are “people on their way to work, taking their children to school, taking their family to the doctor’s office,” and noted that he wishes Judd was as vocal about helping the undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses. Barajas noted that the American Civil Liberties Union did a study several years ago that noted roughly 65% to 68% of immigrants deported from Polk County have no criminal records, and most were picked up on driver’s license issues.
Barajas said he thinks the immigrant population is being targeted by law enforcement and said that with 7,000 open positions every year to pick oranges, “only 300 of them are citizens picking. It is not an unknown fact what community does this work.”
Attorney Artie Renee Pobjecky, who deals with immigration law, said the move “is an authorization and a warning for other sheriffs to comply with that (federal immigration enforcement).”
Pobjecky says she thinks the agreement is to prevent certain counties in Florida from becoming “sanctuary cities” and added that other than that, “it seems like it is business as usual.”
“I do not see it as a target,” she said. “I tell my clients you need to follow the law and that includes don’t drive if you don’t have a driver’s license.”
About the WSO
Officers participating in the program “will not question individuals about their citizenship, alienage or removability, nor will they process aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States,” according to the federal agency’s release.
The Major County Sheriffs of America, a professional association, was one of the association groups to request a program “limited in scope that would allow jurisdictions prohibited from honoring immigration detainers to cooperate with ICE,” according to ICE.
Judd is the professional association’s president.
Judd said the Warrant Service Officer program is a “return to the rule of law.”
“We don’t create the law. We don’t interpret the law. But we took a solemn oath to enforce the law,” Judd said at Monday’s press conference, adding that sheriffs’ offices now have “clear direction” and with the new program, will be able “to administer the ICE warrants for illegal criminal aliens, holding them accountable according to the law of the land, thus ridding not only our counties in Florida, but we can rid our counties and our communities across this nation of those illegally entering the country and committing criminal acts like drug trafficking.”
Judd shared the latest report from the Florida Medical Examiner’s Commission in 2017 in which he said 858 people died in Florida as a direct result of the use of methamphetamine, not counting heroin and other opiates.
“Now why would you not want to hold those drug offenders liable?” Judd said. “Why would you not want them in jail? Why would you not want to stop them from illegally coming across the border and dealing in drugs?”
Judd said the ICE agreement “will go a long way” toward stopping “the catch and release” of illegal immigrants who commit crimes.
Kathy Leigh Berkowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7558. Follow her on Twitter @kberkowitzthel1.