Two Northeast Florida law enforcement agencies are participating in a federal program that allows deputies and officers to identify and detain people living in the county illegally.
The Clay County Sheriff's Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office are both part of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program. The goal, according to ICE policy, is “strengthening public safety and ensuring consistency in immigration enforcement across the country by prioritizing the arrest and detention of criminal aliens.” But it’s come under fire as unfair and discriminatory.
Clay County Jail
Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels approved a request for News4Jax to visit the Clay County Jail in Green Cove Springs to see how the program worked.
Daniels signed the agreement in 2017 and the 287(g) began in 2018 after four deputies were trained as acting ICE agents.
Steve Inman, chief of detention security for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office, explained the program.
“Everybody that comes into the jail is charged with a violation of a statute,” Inman said.
But during the booking process, deputies ask whether a person was born in the country and is an American citizen.
Jail deputies screen incoming inmates for potential immigration violations.
“I think this is a valuable tool for the sheriff to combat crime,” Inman said. “It gives him one more avenue to address criminal behavior within our community.”
Inman and three other detention deputies studied immigration law and procedures at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in a four-week class.
Deputized by ICE
The four Clay County deputies are among the 1,514 law enforcement officers across the country to be deputized by ICE.
The agency has made the 287(g) agreement a priority in recent years.
“I’d like every county in the United States to sign up,” said former ICE Acting Director Tom Homan in 2017. “So that public safety threats don’t go back in the community and commit crimes in our country.”
Currently, 78 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have allowed the government to train select officers. After training, they’re called designated immigration officers.
Five sheriff's offices in Florida are part of the program: Jacksonville, Clay, Collier, Pasco and Hernando.
Clay County's Inman explained the process of identifying immigration violators:
- If a person arrested is suspected of being an illegal alien, they’re questioned during booking and then brought to a designated ICE office within the jail.
- There, a federally trained deputy will screen them, running their names, pictures and fingerprints through a Homeland Security database, which is different from what police use and will quickly tell jail works whether someone is here illegally.
“We have processed people from Germany, from China, from Canada, from England,” Inman remarked.
If the subjects entered the country illegally, either sneaking in or overstaying their visa, they will be turned over to ICE for deportation. Other aliens who were here legally, but are charged with serious crimes, can also be deported.
The agreement is controversial, with protesters saying it’s a way for the government to profile and for the government to deport people stopped for simple infractions, such as traffic violations.
Demonstrations have popped up across the country, calling for a repeal.
Jacksonville immigration attorney Aida Ramirez said the program is unfair.
“There’s going to be a distrust,” Ramirez said. “Individuals are going to be worried about being deported rather than reporting crime.”
She said the original of the agreement was to find violent offenders, but since the Trump administration took over, the law has been too broadly interpreted.
“A lot of these individuals are hardworking,” Ramirez said, citing cases she’s been involved in. “A lot of them do pay taxes. But they get pulled over, they don’t have a valid license, they’re now being held and they’re desperate to get out [of jail.]”
The partnership has been successful, deporting thousands of people with prior criminal convictions, according to ICE agents.
In 2018, the partnership with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office helped them remove 189 unlawful immigrants, and 406 aliens were removed from Collier County.
The Clay County Sheriff's Office, which started enforcement toward the end of the year, removed four.
“[The citizens] get a safer community,” Inman said, while standing inside the small ICE office.
Inman stands by the sheriff’s decision to sign the agreement, saying it's another way to protect the borders by spotting illegals who are already committing crimes.
“We are not out on the street looking for people, we’re not going to people’s homes and looking for people," Inman said.
A spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office declined to comment about JSO’s role in the agreement, deferring comment to ICE.
By the numbers
According to ICE:
In fiscal year 2018, Pasco County had 106 jail encounters through its 287(g) program. Of those, 13 had prior criminal convictions and the remaining 93 were encountered pursuant to their local arrest on criminal charges in Pasco County. A total of seven unlawfully present foreign nationals were removed from the U.S. in FY18 pursuant to their jail encounter via the Pasco County 287(g) program.
In FY18, Clay County had 26 jail encounters through its 287(g) program. Of those, 11 had prior criminal convictions and the remaining 15 were encountered pursuant to their local arrest on criminal charges in Clay County. A total of four unlawfully present foreign nationals were removed from the U.S. in FY18 pursuant to their jail encounter via the Clay County 287(g) program.
In FY18, Collier County had 1,722 jail encounters through its 287(g) program. Of those, 336 had prior criminal convictions and 1,298 were encountered pursuant to their local arrest on criminal charges in Collier County, with an additional 88 having another immigration violation. A total of 406 unlawfully present foreign nationals were removed from the U.S. in FY18 pursuant to their jail encounter via the Collier County 287(g) program.
In FY18, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had 1,289 jail encounters through its 287(g) program. Of those, 298 had prior criminal convictions and 975 were encountered pursuant to their local arrest on criminal charges by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, with an additional 16 having another immigration violation. A total of 189 unlawfully present foreign nationals were removed from the U.S. in FY18 pursuant to their jail encounter via the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office 287(g) program.
To read more about the program and to see which counties are in a 287(g) agreement, click here.