As part of efforts to combat illegal immigration, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Corrections are preparing to deputize state correctional officers as federal immigration enforcement agents.
The program, which is named for Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, usually forms an agreement between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local agencies, such as county sheriffs, to designate select officers to have immigration-related authority.
There are already agreements with Sheriff's Offices in 14 counties in the state, including Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee, and Sarasota.
Florida will be the fourth state department of corrections to participate, following Arizona and Massachusetts in 2016 and Georgia in 2018.
Corrections Secretary Mark Inch began the program inquiry process in April, requesting a pilot program at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Washington County.
The DOC has confirmed that the request has been “reviewed and approved” by a federal advisory board, and the state is now “awaiting official notification of the Memorandum of Agreement from ICE.”
Under the 287(g) program, federally trained officers are authorized to:
- Interrogate any person detained at the participating detention center, who the officer believes to be an undocumented immigrant, about his or her right to remain in the United States and process them for immigration violations and removal;
- Serve warrants of arrest for immigration violations;
- Administer oaths and take and consider evidence needed to process undocumented immigrants for ICE to review;
- Prepare charging documents, including Notices to Appear;
- Detain and transport undocumented immigrants to ICE-approved detention facilities.
But, immigrant-rights groups in Florida and across the country are afraid these new powers will lead to racial profiling, civil rights violations, isolation of immigrant communities, and family separations.
They also say the program forces local governments to spend time and money to do the job of federal immigrations agents.
While ICE will pay for instructors and training materials, the state will take the brunt of the expenses for the program, including: the officer’s travel, housing, and per diem to attend the training; salaries; overtime; general personnel costs, administrative supplies; and maintenance of all technology associated with it.
“Turning our state employees into ICE agents at Florida taxpayer expense will not make our state more safe,” said the Florida American Civil Liberties Union in a statement.
Safety is what DeSantis says is his goal as he continues to push tough immigration policies, including the recent ban on “sanctuary cities.”
“I believe public safety is important to maintain the best quality of life in our communities, which is why I am extremely pleased that the legislature gave me a sanctuary city bill I signed into law,” DeSantis said.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.