ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Department of Corrections will begin carrying out certain federal immigration enforcement tasks in a new partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, becoming the latest agency to join a controversial program that immigrant advocates have decried as overreaching.
FDC Secretary Mark Inch signed a memorandum with ICE last month that will train and deputize certain corrections officers, giving them the authority to investigate and detain inmates for their immigration status, and share that information with federal immigration authorities. Inch called the new collaboration a “common sense partnership” that will have a “tremendous benefit to public safety.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement that he told Inch to find ways to increase immigration enforcement, leading to the new state-federal partnership.
“We take our responsibility to protect our citizens, foster safe communities and uphold the rule of law very seriously,” DeSantis said in a statement. “I’m pleased that the implementation of this important program is moving forward.”
Florida is only the fifth state corrections department in the nation to join the 278(g) program, which is named after the federal law that authorizes it.
“Turning our state employees into ICE agents at Florida taxpayer expense will not make our state safer,” said Amien Kacou, a state attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “In a state where one in five people are immigrants, and where U.S. citizens are often caught in ICE’s sprawling net, we should be taking steps to protect our communities and not furthering our role in the federal deportation agenda leading to the separation of families.”
FDC will operate under the most expansive partnership with ICE, known as the Jail Enforcement Model, which allows designated state corrections officers to help enforce federal immigration laws, identifying and processing potential unauthorized immigrants who are serving time on state criminal charges.
Corrections agencies in Georgia, Massachusetts and Arizona also operate under that model. The Alaska Department of Corrections has a more narrow cooperation agreement with the federal government.
Nationwide, 76 other law enforcement agencies have agreed to the Jail Enforcement Model — many also in Florida — while 73 agencies have agreed to the more narrow partnership, known as the Warrant Service Officer Model.
Many immigrant and civil rights advocates have called for an end to the agreements, citing concerns that it erodes trust of local law enforcement among immigrant communities, leads to increased incarceration and has not improved public safety. Some also say it costs local jurisdictions too much.
It’s not immediately clear how much FDC will spend in the new collaboration.
Those in favor of the ICE partnerships with state and local agencies, including President Donald Trump, argue they keep the country safe from criminals who illegally entered the country.
“This partnership will ensure criminal aliens are not released back onto our streets, increasing public safety across the state,” said ICE Miami Field Office Director Michael W. Meade, according to FDC’s press release.
FDC officials said the program will first be implemented at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in the Panhandle.
The announcement comes as ICE is again facing accusations of inhumane conditions at its detention facilities, most recently in the form of a whistleblower complaint that alleged medical neglect at a Georgia ICE facility, including hysterectomies without informed consent.
©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)