Manatee County Pilots Controversial ICE Agreement as Deportation Fears Increase

 

On Jan. 17, 2018 in Largo, Florida, a press conference was held by Tampa Bay law enforcement agencies to announce a new inter-governmental law enforcement partnership with ICE called a “basic ordering agreement.”

(Bradenton, Florida)“The people that were doing these lawsuits were arguing, ‘Oh no, the state or the local jail doesn’t have jurisdiction to hold them,’” 

explained Adriana Guzman-Rouselle, an immigration attorney who has served Manatee County since 2005, on the liability exposure felt by local law enforcement agencies that inspired ICE’s “basic ordering agreement.” “The way to go around this was, ‘Okay, we’re going to hire those jails as providers of the service,” said Guzman-Rouselle.

According to Tampa Bay Online, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, also a representative of the National Sheriff’s Association, had been working with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement to develop the contract that was reportedly planned be piloted by 17 Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies.

The “basic ordering agreement” or BOA was described in a press release by ICE on January 17, “an existing procurement tool for acquiring a substantial, but presently unknown quantity of supplies or services.” The housing agreement was designed to afford liability protection for local law enforcement agencies housing “illegal criminal aliens in their jails and prisons.” ICE would then reimburse the service provider or law enforcement agency for the costs up to 48-hours of detention of an individual detainee. These actions would all take place after an individual is released from custody, having been charged with state-level criminal charges.

Also in attendance at the press conference was Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, who according to public record signed the agreement with ICE on the Jan. 19. Sheriff Wells commented to Hannah Morse of the Bradenton Herald on Jan. 18 regarding the agreement, “We’re just trying to keep our community safe, and when you have a criminal illegal alien who has been committing crimes in our community, they need to be held accountable.”

Media Controversy Surrounding the Agreement

Since the announcement of the joint law enforcement program in January, the agreement has generated media controversy. According to Guzman-Rouselle, the national media has been complicit in conflating the fears of the undocumented community in recent months. “Even if you are undocumented, if you comply with the law, you will be okay,” Guzman-Rouselle explained. “When you start doing things you are not supposed to, you encounter problems.”

According to The Gainesville Sun, Shortly after the press conference on the 17th, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell announced the next day that the County Sheriff’s office would not opt into the pilot program because “they are not in the business of immigration,” according to the Alachua sheriff’s spokesman, Art Forgey. On Jan. 24, The Southern Poverty Law Center sent public records requests to all 17 Florida counties involved with the pilot program, demanding transparency and more information on the federal program. Florida Politics’ Mitch Perry reported in February a number of Tampa Bay area faith-based organizations rejecting the merits of the agreement.

In March, the Tampa Bay times reported of local undocumented immigrants seeking retainer agreements amid fears of detention and deportation by ICE. In April, 88.5 WNMF reported of a “heated debate” between Pinellas Sheriff Gualtieri and immigrant rights activists on the implementation of the agreement as a pretext to detain undocumented individuals that were initially arrested on charges of driving without a license or identification. April also marked the beginning of the controversial “zero-tolerance policy” implemented by the Department of Justice along the southwest border.

The policy created a national fervor that was also felt here in Manatee County over the separation of families in detention facilities that included South Florida’s Homestead federal facility.

Recent History of Immigration Enforcement in Manatee County

“I haven’t seen any changes, you know, just in paper,” Guzman-Rouselle said of her recent legal experiences with the BOA in comparison to other programs like 287g and Secure Communities. According to public record documents available on online via freedom of information act requests from ina287.org, Manatee County has been actively participating in joint partnerships with ICE since signing a “memorandum of agreement” or “MOA” in July 2008.

In Dec. 2006, former Manatee County Sheriff Charles B. Wells, father of current Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells, sent a written request to ICE to participate in the 287g program in order to train corrections officers in response to what Wells claimed was a large population of undocumented aliens who, “end up in our jails for everything from traffic-related crimes to homicide.” Charlie Wells successor, former Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube signed the agreement in Jun. 2008, only to request a withdrawal from the 287g Program in Sept. 2009.

Steube cited changes ICE made to the MOA requiring law enforcement agencies to provide certified interpreters that were, “cost prohibitive under MCSO’s current budget.” The hiatus was brief, as the Sheriff’s Office joined the Secure Communities program in Oct. 2009 until the Obama administration’s sun-setting of the program in November 2014. The Trump administration reactivated the program via executive order in Jan. 2017.  The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is currently not participating in the program.

Breaking Down the BOA’s implementation in Manatee

According to the Booking Manual procedures provided by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E) Detainers and Notifications” was implemented on Mar. 8 2018, defining the department’s role as a “service provider to the DHS ICE pursuant to the BOA and authorized by federal law to hold alien detainees when all requirements for detention are met.”

“The narrow service we provide to ICE is detention for 48 hours after release from custody on local criminal charges, and that is only done when proper documentation is submitted by ICE for detention of a particular subject,” according to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office General Counsel, Eric Werbeck. “ICE then has 48 hours to pick the subject up from our custody. If they don’t arrive within that time period, the subject is released. All of the subjects being detained will have been arrested for state criminal charges,” Werbeck said.

Since the agreement’s implementation in March, the Sheriff’s Office has held 32 individuals as of June, 14, according to a public record. Of the 32 individuals detained for the maximum of 48-hour period, 25 have been transferred to ICE custody. The criminal charges of detainees that were transferred to ICE ranged from battery and domestic violence, DUI, attempted murder and controlled substance. The individuals released from the detention ranged from unanswered court summonses, driving without a license, or probation violations.

Elizabeth M. Nicholson, ICE Community Relations Officer for Central and Northern Florida, stated that the local field office does not have an accounting of individual detainers at the county level, but pointed to 2017 fiscal year removal statistics for Florida. According to the ICE Fiscal Year data for Florida from 2016-2017, there was a 14-percent increase in removals.

Peter Lombardo, a local criminal defense attorney located in Bradenton who has had clients from the undocumented community, believes that the overall majority of undocumented criminal defendants do not get deported or jailed in Manatee County. “We’ll go to court and its usually misdemeanors, and we’ll go in, they’ll plead guilty, they’ll either get a fine or probation or whatever, and they just walk out the courtroom with me,” Lombardo said.

“I definitely believe that what people have to understand, sometimes, it’s not like ICE is looking for them,” Guzman-Rouselle said. Rouselle explained further that she believes that substance abuse in the undocumented community invites attention from authorities. A study titled, “Undocumented Immigration, Drug Problems, and Driving Under the Influence in the United States, 1990-2014” released in August of 2017 by the American Public Health Association concluded that there was “no significant relationship between increased undocumented immigration and DUI deaths.”

The Trump Administration and Interior Immigration Enforcement

In 2015, the New York Times reported from the campaign trail that Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric was scolded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush as “extraordinarily ugly.” In April 2017, The American Bar Journal hosted a legal panel in Miami that emphasized the Trump administration’s focus on criminal immigration enforcement.

Ariel Ruiz Soto, an Associate Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute who co-authored a May 2018 MPI report titled, “Revving Up the Deportation Machinery: Enforcement under Trump and the Pushback,” believes that the creation of federal BOA’s by the Department of Homeland Security and ICE are meant to incentivize participation of local law enforcement agencies who are concerned about prohibitive costs and legal blowback.

“Rather than incentivizing new participation in immigration enforcement, BOA’s have facilitated access to local law enforcement agencies which had considered cooperating more closely with ICE but had common concerns regarding the cost and liability of holding an immigrant beyond the time they were charged to serve for their criminal convictions,” Soto said.

“The practices of the current administration, however, can and must also be traced to the crime politics of liberal Democrats that shifted the discourse on unauthorized migration,” writes Patricia Macia-Rojas in a 2018 article featured in the Journal of Migration and Huma Security. Amanda Frost wrote in a Nov. 2017 article in the Iowa Law Review, that the legacy of the Obama administration’s removal or forbearance model of immigration enforcement and lack of congressional response to immigration enforcement, should prompt alternative enforcement strategies in the future.

According to Guzman-Rouselle, an urgent problem facing Manatee’s undocumented community is being able to parse fact from fiction by finding legitimate sources of legal help for friends and family. “Mostly what I have seen is notary fraud, telling people things, ‘Oh no, let’s apply for asylum, let’s apply for this or let’s apply for that’,” Guzman-Rouselle said. “They don’t understand the consequences of doing one of those applications, that eventually, they are going to put you in front of an immigration judge when you didn’t have to be there.”

For more information on the Manatee County Basic Ordering Agreement via the National Sheriff’s Association, click here.

Click here for ACLU’s fact sheet on the Basic Ordering Agreement.