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Many Florida Counties Don't Have ICE Agreements Required By New Law

Donna E. Natale Planas
Miami Herald

A new Florida law requiring local governments to comply with federal immigration enforcement went into effect Monday. One of the requirements of SB 168 is that every county in the state has to reach a formal agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in order to be in compliance. 

The agreements are part of a statewide law that ban so-called "sanctuary cities." That means local governments must now honor ICE detainers, or requests from the federal government to hold someone that officials believe is in the nation illegally for up to 48 hours. 

As of Wednesday, only 41 out of 67 counties in the state had formally reached one of those agreements, called a Basic Ordering Agreement or an Intergovernmental Service Agreement, according to ICE.

Population centers in the state, including Miami-Dade, Broward and Duval counties, have not yet reached the agreement, per ICE. Several agreements are in process, and ICE stresses that it has no say whether a county government is in compliance or not.

Counties that do not have formal agreements as of July 3 are the following: Miami-Dade, Broward, Duval, Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Dixie, Escambia, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Glades, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Okaloosa, Osceola, Osceola, Putnam, Sarasota, Sumter, Union, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

Counties have 90 days to get in compliance with the new state law. If not, officials can be sued or even face removal from the Governor or the Attorney General.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said she wasn’t worried about counties living up to the terms of the new law.

“Fortunately, in Florida most of our counties and cities respect the rule of law and want to follow the law,” she said at a press conference last week in Miami. “I don’t think it’s a problem ... this law ensures that we can hold true to the rule of law, which is what this country and this state are founded on.”

However, in some circumstances counties have faced roadblocks to compliance.

In Citrus County, for example, the county’s detention facility is operated by Core Civic, a private for-profit company. No other county in the state has a similar deal. Emails reviewed by WLRN show confusion between the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office and Core Civic about who should enter into the agreement.

In a letter reviewed by WLRN, last week Citrus County administrator Charles Oliver wrote to ICE and Core Civic that the earliest a potential agreement between the parties can be considered is at a County Board of Commissioners meeting on July 23.

Until Monday, Alachua County was one of the only counties in the state that did not honor ICE detainers.

"It was Sheriff [Sadie] Darnell's view that just a detainer alone was not sufficient enough to hold someone on," said Art Forgey, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office. That's because detainer requests don’t meet the "probable cause" threshold the sheriff felt was needed to rearrest and hold someone in custody.

But late last week the Alachua County Sheriff's Office signed an agreement with ICE to start honoring them.

"We felt that we would get sued," said Forgey. "I don't believe we would have entered into agreement without the Governor and Legislature doing this."

Forgey was also weary of what he characterized as a one-sided negotiation that took place between the parties in order to settle on the agreement.

The office previously signed and sent an agreement a few weeks ago, which ICE refused to honor. At dispute was a provision about what kinds of public records the sheriff’s office would be able to disclose about the relationship with ICE. In the end, the terms of the agreement were set unilaterally by ICE, said Forgey. 

"Alachua wanted to be able to produce documents under our public records laws but ICE didn't like that," he said. ICE has now honored the revised agreement with those public records exceptions.

Daniel Rivero is part of WLRN's new investigative reporting team. Before joining WLRN, he was an investigative reporter and producer on the television series "The Naked Truth," and a digital reporter for Fusion. He can be reached at drivero@wlrnnews.org
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