New ICE Warrant Program Seeks to Expand Local Role in Enforcing Immigration Policy

Florida capitol building
Florida capitol building / Wikimedia Commons

Among the most combative bills adopted during the Florida legislative session that concluded Saturday was the controversial new law that bans "sanctuary cities."

The measure – a legislative priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to the sign it into law – requires local jails and prisons to hold an undocumented immigrant charged or convicted of a crime for 48 hours past their release dates to give federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement [ICE] agents time to collect and deport them.

Under the new law, the governor also has the authority to initiate "judicial proceedings" against local officials who do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, endorse "sanctuary city policies" or implement "sanctuary jurisdictions."

Democrats and other critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], say Florida has never had a "sanctuary city" and that ICE, not Florida’s sheriffs, has an extensive history of not responding in a timely manner to local jails’ requests to collect flagged undocumented detainees.

The ACLU is among advocacy groups expected to challenge the law in court, questioning the constitutionality of local law enforcement’s increasing role as an executor of federal immigration policy.

On Monday, ACLU Deputy Political Director Lorella Praeli cited ICE’s announcement that Pinellas County will be the nation’s first jurisdiction to participate in a newly-created Warrant Service Officer program as "just the latest scheme by ICE to enlist local police in its abusive deportation agenda."

ICE’s Warrant Service Officer [WSO] program will train and certify local law enforcement officers to serve federal immigration warrants on detained undocumented immigrants.

Praeli maintains warrants issued under the new program violate 4th Amendment search and seizure provisions and are invalid because they are not reviewed by a judge.

"The agency explicitly aims to subvert the will of local communities that have passed ordinances to prevent exactly this kind of cooperation between police and ICE," Praeli said in a statement. "Participants would be forced to carry the financial burden of ICE’s aggression, potentially costing the state millions in operational expenses and legal fees."

ICE announced its "new partnership" with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to become the first jurisdiction in the country to participate in the program, which is intended for implementation in jurisdictions where law enforcement is "restricted by local policies" in detaining flagged aliens for longer periods of time.

"People in our country illegally who commit crimes must not be released back into our communities where they harm others," Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in the statement. "The Warrant Service Officer program allows sheriffs to lawfully help ICE keep criminal illegal aliens in jail and off the street by serving ICE arrest warrants. The WSO program helps enforce the rule of law and keeps our communities safe."

Gualtieri, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, ICE Deputy Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations [ERO] David Marin and National Sheriffs’ Association Executive Director Jonathan Thompson attended a ceremonial launch of the program Monday in Largo.

"The program gives sheriffs the legal support to help federal law enforcement keep dangerous criminal illegal aliens out of their communities," Thompson said. "It will not only decrease sheriff’s liability but will give them proposed training to enforce the law."

According to ICE, the WSO program is a less-expensive version of its 287(g) program, which allows state and local law-enforcement officials to investigate, apprehend, detain and transport undocumented immigrants who are wanted for deportation. The new program only applies to jail detainees and does not require officers question people about their citizenship or immigration status.

"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," Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said in a statement. "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."

The ACLU is urging local jurisdictions to not participate in the WSO program or face legal challenges in court and political ramifications at the ballot box.

"ICE and the other agencies complicit in Trump’s deportation force may feel they are above the constitution – but neither they, nor local police, are exempt from search and seizure laws," Praeli said. "With this program, ICE is asking local law enforcement to risk violating the 4th Amendment. We urge local law enforcement to resist this dangerous proposal and stand by their commitment to the communities they serve."

Published under: Immigration